Schenectady’s City Hall may enter the 21st century soon, thanks to some software help from RPI students.
The students are developing a program that would allow residents to reserve and pay for facilities online, from ball fields to the popular Central Park pavilion.
Currently, residents must call the parks department, wait for a call back, ask for various dates until they find one that’s available, and then fill out a form by hand. When it’s time to pay, they must go to a different department — the parks department doesn’t handle cash.
Instead, residents are directed to the tax department, where they can pay with cash, check or a credit card.
The tax department gives them proof of their payment, which they must bring back to the parks department.
“It is a bit archaic,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
He wants residents to be able to view the reservations schedule on the city’s website, pick an available date and pay for it — all from their computer.
RPI students are creating an open-source program to do all that. It could be used by other municipalities as well.
Unfortunately, the system can’t be used for the most popular purchase at City Hall: building permits.
Contractors have lobbied for years for online permits, but it’s a complicated matter, McCarthy said.
“The problem is you could apply for a building permit, [but] there’s scenarios where we wouldn’t give it to you. Building plans have to be reviewed,” McCarthy said.
The computer system for pavilion reservations is far simpler to create — if the date is available, the reservation can be accepted. The other system must allow contractors to send in plans and allow for some sort of review before the permit is issued.
“We’re looking at those options,” McCarthy said.
That’s beyond a student project. He is working with other mayors and the Center for Technology and Government at the University at Albany to get grants for the software required.
“We want to computerize,” he said, quickly rattling off the ways in which computerized records could help the city. Among other applications, they could track code enforcement violations and crime calls, seeing where code enforcement could reduce crime.
But for now, residents will start with simply reserving ballfields online.