Town council slashed nearly $7 million from its 2016 capital budget during Monday’s budget meeting, including tablet computers which they could use for council business.
Administration has been pushing for council to use tablets, such as iPads, or laptop computers to read their agendas and other documents in a digital format, thus reducing the amount of paper they use.
Agendas regularly run in excess of 100 pages.
The town implemented its iCompass meeting management software, which the clerk uses to prepare electronic agendas, about four years ago but still hasn’t used it to its full purpose, which is to get rid of paper.
A line item for tablets or laptops has been in the budget year after year and keeps getting trimmed.
While up to $10,000 was earmarked for these items, it’s possible the town would not have to spend that full amount.
Coun. Wendy Brunetta, who has been using a tablet computer since being elected more than a year ago, and regularly uses one in her job at Children and Family Services, said the time is right.
“I just think you’re going to save a whole lot of money on paper,” she reasoned.
“And I know [clerk] Lisa [Slomke] has worked really hard to get all of our agendas online,” Coun. Brunetta added.
“If you don’t do it now, you’re maybe never going to do it,” she remarked.
“I think it’s great and it’s not difficult; it’s not hard.”
Coun. Ken Perry agreed, noting other organizations, such as the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, use digital documents, smart board, and similar technology to drastically reduce paperwork.
But other members of council didn’t completely agree.
“I would say [an iPad] is good to a certain point,” said Mayor Roy Avis.
“Spreadsheets and budgets—throw it in the garbage,” he noted. “But for general meetings, it might be an asset.
“It all depends on how we use it.”
Coun. June Caul said she didn’t care one way or the other, but she does prefer paper.
“It’s easier for me to read with the eyes that I have than any computer screen,” she noted.
“iPads, to me, aren’t that big yet.”
The majority of councl ended up voting against the budget item.
Meanwhile, council reviewed much of the $18.5-million capital budget line by line, discussing items given high, medium, or low priority by department managers prior to the meeting.
Aside from the tablet computers, some of the items trimmed from the capital budget Monday included:
- replacement of a 1995 Hyundai excavator ($400,000);
- 36 light poles along Scott Street ($131,000);
- watermain replacement on Colonization Road West ($1.2 million);
- surface treatment on Frog Creek and Eighth Street ($42,251);
- road repair on Sinclair Street from Victoria to Armit Avenue ($699,263);
- new sidewalk on Sinclair Street from Victoria to Armit Avenue ($53,550);
- reconstruction of Scott Street from Reid Avenue to Colonization Road East ($1.7 million); and
- coin-operated door knobs for public washrooms ($3,500).
The most expensive items cut were road, sewer, and water projects on Sinclair Street, Scott Street, and Colonization Road West, which the town did not receive provincial funding for this year but may do in future.
A sample of the items that made the cut include:
- reconstruction of Colonization Road East from Scott Street to north of Fifth Street East ($2 million);
- phone system replacement ($250,000);
- street sweeper ($316,754);
- sidewalk machine with blower attachment ($156,660);
- Nelson Street storm sewer ($155,948);
- final lift of asphalt and line painting for King’s Highway ($541,300);
- tennis courts ($112,000);
- financial software that will allow the town to do e-billing ($75,000);
- airport groundwater well and treatment system ($60,000);
- 4x4 truck with snow plow ($49,000);
- walkway/sidewalk replacement for the Civic Centre ($42,000);
- metal cladding and additional insulation for the front of the Civic Centre ($65,000);
- stage for the Memorial Sports Centre ($24,000);
- flooring for the Public Works building ($27,405);
- permanent speed signs ($10,000); and
- a handi-van transit bus ($85,000).
Many of these items are to be paid for with the town’s reserve funds, although some of the most pricey—such as the Colonization Road East project—are being funded through provincial grants and federal gas tax reserve funds.
Additionally, council felt a couple of items, such as the Civic Centre walkway and metal cladding, can be done for less funds than noted in the budget.
A few budget items, such as the sanitary sewer main replacement on Phair Avenue from Third to Sixth Street East, only will be done if provincial funding comes through.
Others, such as library computer upgrades, maker space equipment, and surveillance equipment, will be paid for through the library’s reserves or donations.
Council will continue looking at the numbers at another budget meeting slated for Monday, Feb. 8 from 3:30-5 p.m., and then again at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17.