by Heather Tomlinson
City councilors, citing cost and usability issues, aren’t yet moving forward with plans to provide limited wireless Internet access in downtown Somerset.
“I don’t think that until some further eating establishments come downtown, I don’t see any sense in a Wi-Fi system down there,” said Councilor Pat Bourne during the Nov. 11 Somerset City Council meeting.
The council had been in talks about a Wi-Fi service in an approximate one- to two-block area in downtown Somerset since October.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to do and it’s finally worked out,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during the Oct. 14 city council meeting.
Wi-Fi is a popular technology that allows users to connect an electronic device — usually a smartphone such as an Android or iPhone — to the Internet wirelessly through radio waves. Wi-Fi connections are high-speed, and many businesses offer “Wi-Fi hotspots” for consumers to hop on the Internet at no charge.
Girdler said city officials had been working on providing a limited amount of Wi-Fi service to people around Fountain Square and the judicial center. Girdler said the city could only provide the service for a limited time per device, citing concerns about interfering with businesses in the area.
In October Girdler said the city would be able to provide about an hour monthly of Wi-Fi service per device. During the November meeting, he said that window may be one hour daily.
“We need to know,” said Councilor John Ricky Minton. “We need to know for sure.”
During the Nov. 11 meeting, Girdler said it will cost around $9,500 to install the towers needed to provide the service.
“This is virtually free to us but we have to pay $200 (per month),” said Girdler.
Although Girdler said the cost is lower than other companies that submitted proposals, the councilors were uncomfortable with the idea of spending the $9,500 — and additional $200 monthly — on the service.
“I’d rather see that money go to God’s Food Pantry,” said Minton. “I think a lot more people will get some use out of it than the eight or 10 people ... you think about it, I mean, who’s going to be sitting on there on the fountain with their laptops?”
Girdler said they will be able to track how many people use the wireless service, which could help them determine whether to continue the program. Girdler said he brought the idea up because he was asked by several people about a city-provided Wi-Fi service.
“It’s up to the council,” said Girdler. “We thought it would be a great community service but if you feel we need to bypass that ...”
Councilor Jim Rutherford said he considered the program to be a “bit of an extravagance,” and the councilors decided the project should be put off until at least the spring.
“I’m sort of hesitant right now ... we can maybe find something else beneficial to use that money for,” said Councilor Jerry Burnett.
But Councilor Jerry Wheeldon said the council should move forward with the program if they want to redefine downtown Somerset.
“I just don’t understand,” said Wheeldon. “You’re talking about $9,500 to do something good ... I just hate to see us pass this up.”
Girdler agreed with Wheeldon’s sentiments.
“If you’re going to redevelop downtown, you have to have the modern technology,” said Girdler. “ ... You’ve got to do these little things eventually in order to attract people.”
But Girdler said the decision ultimately lies with the council.
“Think about it, we’ll revisit that issue,” said Girdler.
In other news from the Nov. 11 Somerset City Council meeting:
• The council, after having a short public work session on the city’s health insurance program, voted unanimously, minus an absent Donna Hunley, to accept a plan from Bluegrass Health Care.
City of Somerset Budget Director Jimmy Hogg said the city’s former carrier, United Health Care, quoted the city’s new plan at more than $472,000 than what they had been paying. Hogg said the city sought bids on a new insurance plan, and Bluegrass returned with a bid at $228,000 below what they had been paying, amounting to around $700,000 in total savings.
Hogg said through Bluegrass, the city’s employees can now seek a family health plan for around $70 every two weeks. Through United, the cost had been around $374 every two weeks.
“I can’t believe in this time we were able to get a lower rate, save money,” said Girdler. “ ... This saves the city a tremendous amount of money.”
• Rutherford asked about the work that is continuing at the retention pond just off College Street. Girdler said the pond hadn’t been dredged of sediments in several years, and he said the city is working to provide the county with the dirt brought up there. Girdler said the county is using its own equipment to transport the fill dirt to needed locations.
The council reminisced about the state of College Street before the pond was put in. Councilor Jimmy Eastham said a heavy rain would result in an impassible College Street until the pond was dug in the 1970s.
Now, pumps and a line help remove the water collected there during rainfall to the drainage ditch on east Ky. 80 near the pedestrian bridge.
• Councilor Tom Eastham asked whether the Somerset Fire Department has made any progress on repairing its engines. Somerset Fire Chief Tyler Jasper told the council that Engine 8 is back and working, adding that they were able to avoid rebuilding the pump on the engine.
Jasper said the injectors were being replaced on Engine 6, which he said should help with the engine’s loss of horse power, which leads to the engine running at higher RPMs than are suggested.
When asked by Burnett whether the fire department will need a new truck next year, Jasper said he didn’t think the time would come that quickly for a complete replacement.
“At some point it will have to be replaced but I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Jasper.
Jasper said the department just recently began recording maintenance and repair costs for the engines to help better track exactly how much money is going toward which engine. That, he said, will aid the council in deciding whether to provide new equipment.
“That way, you all can see where the money’s going,” said Jasper.
Jasper also informed the council that the fire department was working to get a Ford 550 Chassis that will be equipped with much of the equipment necessary for EMS assistance calls and accident calls.
Jasper said guidelines mandate that the fire department provide fire suppression equipment on accident scenes, and he said that usually requires a full engine. With the new smaller rescue truck, that service can be provided without the use of the full-size engines.
“The ones that are serious are really serious,” said Jasper.
Jasper said the rescue truck will have extrication gear, struts, power tools, and stored compressed air foam for fire suppression.