County to go slowly on computer laptops

Councillors here might eventually move into the age of computers – but they will do so slowly.

Council considered a recom­mendation from its admin­is­tra­tion, finance, and personnel com­mittee on March 27 to  have staff “begin the process of implementing electronic agen­da distribution with a target date of Jan. 1, 2009.”

It was only in February that council removed an expen­di­ture of $75,000 for laptop com­puters for councillors from its budget, but at the urging of Warden John Green, the county treasurer prepared a report for March. Green had been urging council to con­sider laptop com­puters, but when the vote was tied during the budget talks last month, he voted against the plan.

Treasurer Craig Dyer  stated “The concept is fairly straight­for­ward – councillors, board mem­bers, and department heads would be provided with lap­­tops, meeting rooms would be equipped with high speed wire­­less connections, and agen­das and other corres­pondence would be distributed electron­i­cally in some form.”

Dyer said there are a num­ber of considerations in dealing with the issue.

Laptops would be provided for 16 councillors, seven board members, and nine department heads, a total of 32, at a cost of $2,200 each, for a total of $70,400. That would include the laptop, at $1,000; three years extended warranty at $200; a spare battery at $200; external mouse and keyboard, $100; a backup unit at $150, laptop case at $100; a security and anti-virus software at $100; editing and office suite soft­ware at $250; and other licen­ces, at $100.

The 32 printers would cost $11,200 but Dyer noted coun­cillors might be able to use the multifunction printer on the fax machines they already have to receive agendas, so the cost might be less.

He said other costs to con­sid­er are office desktop soft­ware training, general opera­tion training of computer and printers, and off hours support.

There are other costs, in­clud­ing remote connectivity that includes a dedicated phone line for those without high speed, for $75 installation and $25 per month, and $50 to con­nect and $50 per month for those with high speed access.

Wireless high speed would cost $200 to install and $50 a month.

Dyer estimated the total one time costs for 32 con­nections to be $19,200.

He said extra costs might include ar­ranging of commu­nication hook­ups and installation of communication software and connections, as well as off hours support.

He said the cost to secure the web site for council and staff access was quoted at $6,000.

There are a number of loca­tions where councillors meet and costs could range between $1,000 and $3,000 per site for the county museum, library headquarters, Wellington Ter­race, and the county owner Guelph Post Office. There might also be a need, in the worst case, to run a separate in­ternet connection to the Rock­wood and Fergus OPP offices.

The estimate for six loca­tions is $2,000.

Dyer said the final cost could reach $103,800.

Some like it; some don’t

Councillor Brad Whit­combe said he likes the plan and is ‘very supportive. It will be most helpful for me, and I’m sure, for others.”

He added that the depart­ment heads can also be equip­ped with Blackberries (small, wireless computers with the ability to send and receive emails) and “county coun­cillors can be equipped as well.”

Warden John Green pointed out the the county is going to be taking the lead in ensuring that all areas have access to high speed internet with broadband expansion. He said that will likely come “in the next few years.”

Councillor Lou Maieron asked that the issue be voted on separately from the report.

But councillor Walter Trach­­sel said the county had turned down laptops in the budget. “I don’t think we can bring it back this year.”

Green explained there is a way, with no money being spent until October.

Councillor Rod Finnie agreed with Trachsel.

Councillor Mike Broom­head, the chairman of the fin­ance committee, said his com­mittee  was asked only to come back to council with a proper proposal.

“Nobody on the committee is suggesting we have to do it this year.”

Councillor Gord Tosh questioned why council needs wireless communication. He said it would not be to email each other.

Councillor Jean Innes said, “This is a huge amount of money, and I’m not sure there’s a great advantage. I would much rather have paper in front of me.”

Innes said she had done some research, and one municipality had turned down a similar proposal because it feared councillors could email each other during council meetings. She added that normally, councillors discuss the issues “openly. If we have the ability to text message, we have transparency issues.”

Green said he knows that is some places, email equipment is banned.

Maieron had three concerns. The first was how the issue became a budget item.

The second was the ability to communicate secretly, and the third was how the technology will increase performance and productivity.

He also wondered if the county would buy or lease laptops.

He added that training costs could be very high, and had heard in some places it was a day a week for seven weeks.

He also said there had been no survey of councillors to determine who wants them, no comparison of the cost to the current method of operation, and how the county would dispose of the laptops.

Green said Maieron should read the committee report, which states the staff would “begin the process.”

He added, “It’s not a budget item. If you want to kill it there will be no report.” He added the recommendation is to determine if the idea is “worthy” by 2009.

Maieron said if council approves the recommendation, it will be on the agenda.

Councillor Chris White recommended deferring the recommendation until staff provides a report comparing the current system with the proposal.

“It’s irresponsible to kill it,” White said, adding that his council in Guelph-Eramosa decided against laptops, but “for very different reasons.”

He moved to defer.

Trachsel said, “If the average age of council was 20 years less, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Broomhead said his municipality in Wellington North uses laptops, even though he doubted they would be useful. He said now, “Everyone on our council swears by them.”

Council then voted to defer the issue, with only councillors Lynda White, Whitcombe, Bob Wilson, and Trachsel opposed.