Council wades into debate on flooding

Lawmakers divided over communication; cite concerns over arena expense for youth hockey

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While the majority of Common Council members were in agreement that city administration was working hard to remedy damage to infrastructure and area homes caused by major flooding that occurred Aug. 19, others felt the mayor and administration failed to properly communicate emergency messages, such as home evacuations, with members of the community and council.

During Wednesday’s Common Council meeting held in Council Chambers of City Hall, Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson commended Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo and the city administration for their efforts in addressing flood damage. Anderson described the “long day” that began with an impromptu meeting with the mayor at the Wood Creek overflow, which goes through his Fifth Ward.

“Guyer Field was already flooding, Dewitt Lane...was closed at 1 in the afternoon — it was unprecedented what would happen at the end of the day,” Anderson said. “Initially it started with DPW (Department of Public Works) staff who did a phenomenal job all day and were on top of things. They really worked hard all day, but as the day went on, more parts of the administration got involved — the fire and police departments on River Street toward Pinti Field.”

Anderson made reference to a disaster plan constructed by the city a few years ago, and “You think you have all the disaster preparation done, but until the situation actually occurs, you never know how good it is.”

He said, “The mayor has done some great follow-up, and codes is working with the owners of properties with structural damage.”

Meanwhile, Second Ward Councilor John B. Mortise also thanked the administration for “coming together,” as “we literally had devastation.” He recognized the police and fire departments, DPW, Water Department, and even the Parks and Recreation Department.

“I just don’t want people to think that we just had flooding and lost River Street — 58 homes were lost and we haven’t had that kind of loss in at least 100 years in my research — that’s absolutely horrific,” Mortise said. “But four out of seven members of the council — the mayor didn’t contact us until Saturday. We lost an entire street and you don’t call the councilors? I understand you’re busy,” but that left councilors unable to answer constituents’ questions.

Mortise made reference to First Ward Councilor John M. Sparace who “didn’t know if he and his wife should leave. He couldn’t get the mayor, and” he questioned, ‘If I could evacuate, where do I go?’ No one had answers.

The councilor ended his comments by noting the on-going efforts of the city with residents of River Street, with about six residences having electric and gas service back on as of Wednesday.

“We need to come together and help our residents out,” he said. “This council worked on a disaster plan a few years ago and it was ridiculous the amount of information that went in that book, and when it was slapped on the desks of administration Thursday, everyone jumped into action and went by the book. Here we used it — we needed it. At the end of the day, the council works hard with the administration to not only look at today, but well into the future as to what’s best for our residents and luckily, no one got hurt.”

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers said she felt sorry for area residents who “haven’t had water,” and commented on how her yard and a neighbor’s was underwater.

“It’s unnerving to see water coming your way. It was feet deep,” Rogers said. “What really struck me was the amount of panic on Facebook, because there was no communication other than a press release that came from the city stating an emergency had been declared and that’s it — no number for someone to call and no guidance there.”

She said, “We’re missing an opportunity to communicate with residents by not having a reverse 911 system. It would be the same, consistent message for everyone who signs up for that service, and it would not be confusing and not be changed along the way. Police told the Sparaces to evacuate their house. Some communication that was out there was mandatory and then some was, ‘Well we suggest you evacuate or maybe think about evacuating…’ I agree that the administration is working hard to get it cleaned up, but I think we need to have something in place to do a better job on the communication side.”

In other business:

• Councilor Rogers said the council received an email from Rome Youth Hockey Association. She said during the pandemic the city had other expenses and unknowns, and opened the arena “really late,” and when it did open there were “lots of rules and additional staff, they lost revenue from the snack bar, etc.”

“They used to pay $90” for membership, “and during the pandemic, we raised that to $110 to cover the additional expenses and it seems logical if you do the math,” Rogers said. “But if you look at the hours, the number of uses — that amounts to tens of thousands of dollars extra at a time they lost a significant amount of kids who went to Utica because they were not sure if we would even have a program. If we put them out of business, the hockey arena will be put out of business.”

She said, “The rate increase looks like a temporary solution but it’s problematic, because” the cost “is passed on to the kids and memberships will need to go up…The kids will just go and play for other programs, so we seriously need to take a look at that. A few years ago the program had financial difficulties and we worked with them. For a year or two we lowered their rates to give them time to build up the program, and they did. They’re doing a great job. We passed legislation, and the council had the authority to set rates and at some time, the administration decided it would change the rate...I hope the administration recognizes they are the largest user of the arena and without a program, it would be hard to keep lights the lights on at the arena.”

Common Council President Stephanie Viscelli said she agreed with Rogers about the Rome Youth Hockey Association.

“We have a great Parks and Recreation Department — we provide pools for the kids during the summer. We operate those at a loss, but they’re really important,” said Viscelli. “The hockey arena is no different they operate as a loss, but it’s really important for our residents. Hockey is part of the fabric of our community, and we need to support it in a time when our kids were so isolated” and had limited resources to remain physically and socially active.

She said, “It would be a shame to not provide that opportunity for our kids. Hopefully the administration can work something out with the hockey association, because we did lose a lot of members while waiting to get things reopened.”

• Seventh Ward Councilor A. Robert Tracy said the Finance Committee met Aug. 18 with the city auditor to review the annual audit. He said the annual audit was a “snapshot” of what the city’s finances looked like on a specific date, which was on Dec. 31, 2020.

“If you look at the bottom line, we lost $489,000 although it’s worth noting that while it’s a true and accurate picture, it is misleading, because at that point, the city was expecting approximately $3.1 million” in state funding, “which came several weeks later,” Tracy said. The councilor noted that the funding came later than expected because of the pandemic.

“If we did the report today, it would look substantially different,” said Tracy, noting that City Treasurer David Nolan was “comfortable with the progress the city has made.”

• Councilor Anderson said the Municipal Operations Committee met Monday regarding the New York Power Authority Smart Cities lighting program, and they are reviewing replacing city light fixtures with LED lights for a cost savings.

“Other communities are working on it or finished it, with Utica and Sherrill coming to mind,” said Anderson. “We had a good meeting with Public Works Commissioner Butch Conover and Patrick Surace — the design is 90% complete. We had to get an inventory from National Grid to see where we stand and move forward…We’re setting up the city for future payback” of 9-10 years “with a $425,000 a year savings.”

Legislation will come before the council in early September with a cost analysis, he said.

Councilor Rogers also noted that one beneficial component of the Smart Cities program, in addition to energy cost savings, is that if Rome becomes a Smart City, it will have the additional potential for broadband service and public WiFi.

Also, Anderson met with Dodson and Associates to look at the Northwest Rome Water System.

“We are primarily working on some easements and access to properties along Turin Road, so we will have informational sessions to clear up a lot of that work and move forward in that respect. A meeting” for the ward “will be held in the middle of September,” Anderson said.

Resolutions Unanimously Approved

• Resolution 65 authorizing the mayor to apply for 2018 Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) funding in the amount of $3,576,000 toward Phase 3 of the Mohawk River Trail Project. Grant matching requirements are 80% grant and 20% local match with the engineers’ estimate for the project totaling $4,470,000. The local match will not exceed $894,000.

• Resolution 66 authorizing City Treasurer David Nolan to close capital projects and to make appropriate accounting entries.

• Resolution 67 authorizing an amendment to the city’s Purchasing Policy & Procedure Manual.

• Resolution 68 authorizing the city clerk to advertise notice of a public hearing regarding amending the Rome Code of Ordinances Chapter 80 — Zoning Code and Related Maps to include the new Heritage District-Erie Canal Zone.

Ordinances Unanimously Approved

• Ordinance 9464 authorizing the acquisition of a permanent public access easement related to the public right-of-way for the Mohawk River Trail Phase 2 Project in the amount of $8,700.

• Ordinance 9465 authorizing the mayor to approve the sale of a city-owned parcel at 7173 Taft Ave. to St. Peter’s Church for $600.

• Ordinance 9466 authorizing parking restrictions on William Street and appropriate signage reflecting “No parking between the hours of 7:30 am. To 7:30 p.m.” to be posted in front of 515 William St.

• Ordinance 9467 authorizing the acquisition of real property related to the public right-of-way for the Mohawk River Trail Phase 2 Project in the amount of $43,500.

• Ordinance 9462, tabled during the Aug. 11 Common Council meeting, was unanimously removed from the table. Unanimous approve was given to the ordinance authorizing the mayor to enter into an intermunicipal agreement with Oneida County relative to snow and ice removal from county highways for the 2021-22 snow seasons.

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