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Lockport considers tracking system for city vehicles

LOCKPORT – Any City of Lockport employee with a hankering for Tim Hortons, a stop at home during the workday or a longer-than-normal lunch might find those things harder to get away with in the future.

Representatives from Verizon addressed the Common Council on Wednesday, suggesting that Lockport outfit all its city vehicles with tracking technology.

With the click of a mouse, the Verizon rep said, city officials would know where all the city’s vehicles are, how long they had been there and where and how fast they are being driven.

That means city officials would no longer have to rely on citizen sightings to find workers who might be goofing off.

But Dennis J. Joseph, a Verizon account executive, said that’s the wrong way to look at it.

“It’s not employee oversight. It’s asset tracking,” Joseph said. The point, he said, is, “You’re an employee, you drive the vehicle according to our rules.”

Terrance Conner of Verizon said city leaders could set up a “geofence,” a preset area outside which a particular city vehicle is not to be driven. The GPS-style tracking devices would tell officials in City Hall who’s not obeying.

Joseph said worker behavior clearly changed in other municipalities that installed Verizon trackers on vehicles, such as Cheektowaga and Amherst.

Conner said the city could save big money on fuel use – as much as 24 percent – by reducing idling and prompting workers to use more direct routes. Insurance costs, mileage and wear and tear on vehicles also could be decreased. “I said all that without mentioning George Orwell and ‘1984,’ ” Conner said.

Conner, who spoke repeatedly of “a higher level of accountability,” suggested that the city ought to take up the matter with its unions. “We highly advocate a high level of communication with your employees,” he said.

“We’re going to need that conversation soon,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

Alderman John Lombardi III, R-1st Ward, disagreed. “This is a management thing. We don’t need to let them know that,” he said.

Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick, R-5th Ward, said the city would supply Verizon with a list of vehicles in order to obtain a cost estimate. Joseph said the city could buy the system outright or lease it for three years. Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said that with technology constantly changing, a lease probably would be a better idea.

In another matter Wednesday, the Council agreed to shuffle money around to replace a broken pump at the water filtration plant for $15,528 plus the cost of installation. The pump died last week.

McCaffrey said she was told the pump was at the end of its “life expectancy,” anyway. “We could repair it for $12,000,” she said, “but we might only get a couple of months out of it.”

The mayor also said the Salvation Army, where a renovation project is to begin shortly, wants to borrow the city Youth and Recreation building in Altro Park to store gifts for its annual gift distribution to the needy.

McCaffrey and the Council agreed that the copier lease and the Internet connection for the Altro Park building should be canceled, but the alarm system needs to be maintained.