By Doug Hallett
An ambitious plan to transform the technology side of city hall – with a price tag of $4.3 million over four years – might be delayed because of developing difficulties with the city’s 2013 budget.
Although council voted unanimously Monday to approve in principle the city’s first-ever corporate technology plan, it remains in doubt whether council will agree to 2013 funding for the plan.
“I think we are trying to change too fast,” said Coun. Bob Bell. He also questioned whether the city can afford to spend $1.5 million on the plan in 2013 – the first year of a proposed three-year phasing in of new information technology systems and four-year phasing in of new IT staff.
The technology plan calls for four new IT employees to be hired in 2013, at a cost of $500,000, along with $1 million in capital investment in 2013.
Total proposed spending on the plan includes about $850,000 for a total of seven new IT staff from 2013-16 and a total of $3.4 million in capital investments from 2013-15.
At a budget workshop last week, senior city hall staff told council they were having a tough time finding acceptable ways of bringing the increase in the city’s 2013 base budget down to three per cent. In July, council approved a tax rate guideline of up to a 3% increase in the net tax levy requirement – the additional money that would need to be raised from property taxes in 2013.
At that time, staff indicated that they planned to give council an idea in September what a 2013 budget might look like using a 3% guideline.
However, last week’s budget workshop included no such 2013 budget outline. Instead, material in the meeting’s agenda just reiterated budget pressures expected to add $15 million, or 8.5%, to the city’s base budget costs in 2013. The biggest budget factors for 2013 are an additional 2.55% for employee salaries and benefits and an additional 2.08% to deal with capital budget pressures related to reserve funding and debt servicing.
Any money spent on the new corporate technology plan would be considered a budget expansion, so it would be on top of any increase in the city’s base budget.
Bell said Monday that he didn’t think the city can afford the proposed schedule for the implementing the technology plan. He said he hoped that when council votes on the 2013 budget in December, it will approve a couple of new IT employees and defer the rest of the technology plan for a year. The city’s IT department seems to be understaffed, he noted.
Putting the technology investments off wouldn’t be a good idea, said Mark Amorosi, the city’s executive director of corporate and human resources.
“These are needed investments now,” said Amorosi, who also told council that the new technology plan is a prescription for “bold transformative change” at city hall.
One of the benefits of the plan, he said, would be to “provide the public with multiple ways to access services in real time” from the city.
Norah Prior, a consultant hired by the city to develop the technology plan, said Guelph is lagging behind. “There has been a lack of commitment at senior levels (at city hall) to technology,” she told council.
As well as serving the public better, the technology plan would deliver savings by streamlining business processes at city hall, Prior said.
“Continuing on the same path is fraught with risk,” she said. “Putting it off will only defer savings and productivity gains.”
A city staff report says major project work included in the technology plan includes:
• modernize and address major gaps in various computer systems, including redesigning business processes for efficiencies
• extend existing core business systems for better integrated and seamless service delivery
• develop an information management strategy
• develop a mobile computing strategy
• introduce new collaborative tools such as voice, video conferencing and shared document collaboration.