City Council voted Thursday to accept a $389,804 bid by an Allentown company to first install seven surveillance cameras at Flanigan and Memorial parks as well as a plan for possibly adding three cameras at Newberry Park.
After 90 minutes, the vote was 5-1, with Council President Bill Hall absent.
N. Clifford "Skip" Smith, Randall J. Allison, Don Noviello, Liz Miele and Bonnie Katz supported the bid. Jonathan Williamson did not.
Williamson made clear his intentions in dissenting. He claimed the installation of the city surveillance system "smacked of big government."
However, he said he respected the voices in the public who supported the cameras, as well as the effort by Smith, city police Chief Gregory A. Foresman and Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, who helped to get the project to this stage.
Still, Williamson said, he wanted to stay true to his conservative roots and not repeat the mistakes of state and federal governments that have placed many taxpayers in a financial mess caused by a lack of planning.
"If we do it, it must be done in a sustainable way and a way in which it will actually work," he said.
Williamson said his objection was primarily for that reason and because of certain long-term maintenance, replacement and operating costs associated with keeping the camera system viable and able to expand.
Williamson also had employees from CSI, the company awarded the bid, explain the positive aspects of the cameras, which can pan, tilt and zoom.
In analyzing the features, some weaknesses were observed, such as the plan for the system to be passive, not actively monitored by police, and how someone may commit acts out of the line-of-sight of the camera lens.
Miele, too, said while she planned to vote in favor of the proposed bid, the city would have to show proof it was a linked system, capable of accessing other cameras and networking with them for future use by police, fire and codes.
She also wanted to see police documentation the cameras are doing what they were intended to do.
Noviello said it is important to recognize how much expense has been expended by salaried individuals, such as the police chief, mayor and engineers at Larson Design Group. The team prepared the bid specifications, which are considered to be among the most rigorous ever, according to another company that submitted a bid for the camera project.
"I would hate to see efforts of these many officials to be undermined," Noviello said.
Katz said she visited a large grocery store and a restaurant with cameras and noted how each owner believed the lenses have helped to catch criminals and provide security measures.
"Legacy costs are also security of our kids and our future," she said.
Allison was concerned that the initial round of camera placements did not include any sites east of Market Street.
He also said another concern was making sure the city budgeted at least $20,000 a year to be a responsible government that prepares for the worst scenarios in terms of camera maintenance, operation and replacement.
"I believe we should err on the side of having enough there," he said.
Smith suggested the city go with a service contract that would cost about $20,000 a year. He noted the city can agree to a performance bond and that the system comes with a warranty.
The first year there is no cost for maintenance, he said. Next year, the equipment and software are covered under warranty.
He added the city's intention is to do much of the smaller maintenance in-house, including cleaning lenses and checking for tightness against water damage.
In 2013, Smith suggested, the city may want to put $20,000 in the budget and do that for the next five years. He believes the overall maintenance-related costs to be $13,000 to $14,000 annually.
The durability of the cameras has been proven in other cities, where problems associated with failure are few and far between, Smith said.
Additionally, if the city buys the service contract, for 120 hours but only uses 50 hours, it can roll the remaining service hours over to the next year, he said.
Police view the cameras with hope.
"We put an excruciating amount of time in this project," Foresman said. "It's the first time we get to use this technology and I believe it can be extremely useful and pay dividends back."
Police intend to use the law enforcement tool to not only deter criminal activity but to capture events as they happen, for use in court cases and to reduce the amount of time ordinarily spent interviewing and investigating.
Campana, meanwhile, was elated, saying he intends to contact federal legislators to begin the process of getting another grant for more cameras.
Looking at Allison and others on council, Campana said his pledge was to start the ball rolling today, working on the second phase of the camera project.
"We're going to cover the East End," he said.