The city could square away $700,000 over the next five years to put toward automation, digitization, and planning, should council pass a recommendation from one of its main committees.
On July 12, the community growth and infrastructure standing committee saw a presentation from the city's director of finance, Diane McMordie.
McMordie detailed adjustments the city is looking to make to its capital prioritization matrix – a weighting system for capital projects. Additionally, she recommended the creation of a new fund to support future enhancements in information technology (IT) infrastructure, equipment, and software.
The money stored in the fund could eventually go toward new cloud-based software; targeted training to ensure full use of existing software; the addition of modules for existing software; and the creation of more online offerings for residents.
"Creation of this fund will allow us to be more responsive to new needs and advancements, and will allow the organization to remain relevant," McMordie said.
McMordie highlighted how the city's operational and fiscal review – conducted by consulting group Ernst and Young – supported investment surrounding digitization, modernization, and automation, but said these goals are "difficult to achieve without a dedicated and consistent funding source."
Coun. Wes Brodhead questioned how administration's use of the fund would remain accountable to council.
"You've noted there will be a report from the chief administrative officer back to council, but it appears to me that it would be after the money is spent," Brodhead said.
McMordie confirmed the reports would be issued after the funding was used, adding that administration felt it wouldn't be the best use of council's time to deliberate over things such as adding modules to software or expanding on specific program functionality.
"What we use the fund for in a year will be completely different than the projects required in the next," McMordie said. "We would keep council apprised of what we did with that money."
Because many of the costs would be one-time in nature, McMordie said that if the projects were addressed directly by council on an as-needed basis, it would lead to fluctuations in the tax rate.
"In this case, there's no impact to the tax rate, because we would use our assessment growth revenue every year," McMordie said. "It would be no impact to existing taxpayers."
Brodhead highlighted how, even though there would be no incremental impact to the tax levy, the creation of the fund would still be dependent on tax revenue. He said while he saw the value of the fund, a $700,000 increase to the city's capital fund would have been just as effective.
"There is, in fact, a tax impact, because in creating the new fund, you're taking away tax revenue," Brodhead said.
McMordie said if the city were to increase the capital funding available, projects related to IT infrastructure and modernization would still "almost never" make it to the top of the funding prioritization list.
"The problem we have now is, when these projects sit in the mix with things like a recreation facility, they're very low down on the list," she said.
"In my opinion, there's huge risk to the organization not to invest in these measures in order for us to stay relevant and modern, and work toward automation to create efficiencies."
Ultimately, the recommendation passed with unanimous support, and will come forward to council at a future meeting.