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Esquimalt council 2.0: a $200,000 upgrade

Dec 02 2012
Barb Desjardins 

Barb Desjardins

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury , timescolonist.com

Equipping Esquimalt council chambers for the digital age will be an expensive proposition.

Municipal staff estimate reconfiguring the council chamber to improve sightlines, replacing dated audio-video equipment and offering residents the possibility of watching council and committee meetings online could cost more than $200,000.

A three-phase project has been proposed:

? Phase one (estimated between $60,000 and $100,000) would include a new council table with integrated monitors; and a repositioned projector system.

? Phase two (estimated at $60,000) would include upgraded audio; an enhanced podium with microphone; a video camera and video distribution matrix; and a touch panel control system.

? Phase three (estimated at between $40,000 and $60,000) would bring ceiling monitors for the public gallery; a second video camera; wireless connectivity; and upgraded speakers and lighting.

Only $60,000 has been set aside for the work, so just how much of the plan can be implemented will be determined largely in budget deliberations, said Mayor Barb Desjardins.

"The cost pressures these days, when you're looking at whether you're going to spend it on making sure a sewer doesn't break versus the bells and whistles for your council chambers, those are pretty serious discussions," she said.

"You have to have all of the parameters in front of you to make those decisions."

Desjardins said there is some interest in the community in being able to watch council meetings online, but said any decision will have to be considered carefully.

"Our audio-visual is challenging. It breaks down on a fairly frequent basis, so it's not that it's not going to require some change, it's how far do you want to go?" she said.

"How much interest versus the dollars spent? You have to weigh it against everything else in the budget next year."

Council has the budget to move on phase one and will experiment with a couple of seating configurations in anticipation of doing that work.

Meanwhile, Esquimalt is also exploring the idea of councillors going paperless.

Eliminating hard copies of agendas for mayor and council would save about 27,000 pages of paper a year - even though they account for only seven of the 26 copies printed, a recent staff report says.

Electronic agenda packages are currently available, but councillors are split on whether to use their own laptop, tablet or smartphone, or have the municipality provide devices.

Municipal staff note there are pros and cons to both.

If councillors used their own devices, they could choose what they want to use; there would be no requirement to provide the device to staff in the event of a freedom of information request; and there would be no need to have separate devices for personal and council purposes. However, councillors would have to pay for the devices themselves, and there would be no guarantee of municipal IT support.

If the municipality supplied the devices, the township would pay, support would be available, and they would be subject to FOI requests.

Staff have been asked to provide more information about costs and software options, said Desjardins.

The mayor said she would like to see the measures implemented by the end of the term, but that cost would be an issue. bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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