The Bedford Town Board on Tuesday, Sept. 8, approved creation of an inter-municipal agreement that would result in a cooperative wireless master plan for multiple northern Westchester municipalities.
The plan includes seven towns and villages — Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers and Yorktown — and is to be prepared by CityScape Consultants Inc., an independent consultancy based in Boca Raton, Florida. CityScape also has been working on a wireless plan specifically for the Town of Bedford.
According to Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick, this group of northern Westchester leaders began meeting in 2018 to see if they could work jointly on the issue of wireless planning.
Mr. Burdick told The Record-Review, “I brought the group together, and we all said, ‘We’re all having these issues with wireless service, and the deficiencies and lack of service do not follow town lines; maybe we should all try to collaborate?’ We then asked County Executive George Latimer if there was a possibility for shared services.”
Mr. Burdick said the group sent its initial letter to Mr. Latimer in March of last year. After they were encouraged by county officials to move forward, the group sent out requests for proposals to a number of wireless consultants. Several proposals were received, and CityScape was selected.
In October 2019, the supervisors and Mayor Gina Picinich of Mount Kisco sent another letter to Mr. Latimer, this one requesting that $190,170 — the fee quoted by CityScape — be included in the 2020 county budget. The request was approved. As noted in the letter, those funds from the county could be eligible for reimbursement from the state under the shared services program.
In its proposal, CityScape also supplied a breakdown by town of what the same services would cost if provided separately to each. It estimated the combined total, if pursued separately, would have been $268,083, indicating the joint contract would save nearly $78,000.
“There is no question that the shared services (approach) saves all parties tax dollars,” Mr. Burdick said, while making it clear that none of the municipalities is paying for the work. “
At the town’s offering, Bedford will serve as the conduit through which the county payments are made to CityScape. Mr. Burdick said, under the IMA, the Town of Bedford “will not proceed with the project without an agreement with CityScape,” that the contract is conditioned on county funding. “The only function of the town is to act as a pass-through agent. We will not allow for any consultancy services nor pay for any consultancy services beyond that,” the supervisor said.
County Legislator Kitley Covill, whose district includes all of the participating municipalities except Yorktown, told The Record-Review that CityScape had previously done similar work for the county for emergency services communications. “They had found ways to fill coverage gaps,” she said. “This expands that work to include all types of wireless coverage.” She said it is hoped that by bringing in an independent coverage consultant based outside New York state, the best solutions can be identified and proposed.
Ms. Covill said CityScape will present its findings, which are to include recommendations of specific wireless equipment sites, to all seven towns in about 17 weeks. Both she and Mr. Burdick noted that another advantage of the cooperative agreement is that the joint study will facilitate finding sites that can serve the needs of multiple towns at once. Such coordination could potentially reduce the number of tower proposals.
“We all are being besieged with applications from cell tower developers and the Verizons of the world,” Mr. Burdick said. “We also have a keen interest in addressing the deficiencies in cell service and Wi-Fi in our area.”
He noted that the severe Aug. 4 storm, which caused significant disruptions in wireless and other services, points out several fundamental problems that need to be addressed. “We need more cell towers, there’s no way around that,” said Mr. Burdick, “but we want it to be on our terms. We want it to be developed by a disinterested third party that doesn’t have ties to the industry.”
Ms. Covill bolstered that argument, saying the most significant takeaway from the IMA is there will be no politics involved in reviewing cell coverage. She also looked to this program as a possible prototype for other types of shared services. “There is a need for shared services,” she stressed. “The reason the county got involved is because the county has asked municipalities to think more regionally.”