The District of Mission plans to spend up to $167,900 of its COVID-19 relief funding to upgrade the technology in council chambers.
The primary purpose of the province’s COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant – of which Mission received $4,964,000 – is to subsidize local government’s financial shortfall in operations and services. But the money can be used in limited circumstances to retrofit computers, networks and internet system to improve virtual communications.
“I think it’s a great step we’re taking to engage with the residents,” said Coun. Jag Gill. “Even after COVID, I think this is going to be huge.”
Since the pandemic, the restricted access to council chambers has highlighted the lack of quality and reliability of the district’s current technology, according to a staff report to council on Feb. 1.
The upgrades, which will take several months to complete, aim at “delivering an enhanced product for public consumption” and easing virtual interactions between citizens and councillors during open meetings. Up to $26,450 will also be used to upgrade district computers with Microsoft Office 365.
There are four components to the chamber upgrades: Audio-visual upgrades with an estimated cost of $121,000, information-services upgrades at an estimated cost of $15,000, electrical upgrades at a cost of $8,500 and new furniture costs at $1,500. The expenses have been allocated a 15 per cent contingency cost.
The chambers have not seen an upgrade for several years, the latest being new microphones which continue to have issues with call-ins, feedback issues and locational flexibility.
The retrofit will allow greater flexibility to hold virtual meetings and allow more opportunity to attend online seminars, meetings and conferences remotely.
“We were fortunate to have some dollars come from the province to have to pay for it, rather than going to taxation,” said acting Mayor Danny Plecas.
The report said the provincial grants also offered an opportunity for a “quick win” for the district’s development services team, as they are currently missing the effective file-sharing applications offered in Microsoft Office 365.
The department’s staff struggle to manage information and cannot collaborate simultaneously and remotely on the same documents, often resulting in delays and overtime costs when updating important information when tracking applications in Microsoft Excel.
These issues have been compounded during the pandemic, when staff have been required to work remotely or maintain social distance, according to the report, which said the upgrades will also reduce the amount of paper used and shared around the office.
The Microsoft Office 365 upgrade will start as a pilot project for development services, but will be rolled out district wide by around 2024.
“District staff believe there are sufficient funds to also pay for the expenses identified in this report. Ongoing operations cost will be added to the 2022 budget and will require a property tax increase,” the report said.