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Point and click for budget?
PUBLISHED FEB. 21, 2014
Coquitlam city hall hopes to get more residents involved in the budget process with a new online tool to show where their property taxes go.
Citizen Budget is aimed at giving finance staff and city council a better idea about how the public wants tax dollars to be spent.
City staff want to replace the annual budget meeting — typically attended by fewer than a dozen people, most of whom are connected to special interest groups — with the online program.
Responses from the web survey are intended to add to the city’s annual Ipsos Reid telephone poll as well as the town hall meetings held twice a year.
Developed by a non-profit group with the aim of getting more people involved in local government, Citizen Budget is currently used in Toronto and Montreal, although it is not well known in western Canada. The simulator has been used in Langley Township as well as Regina and Edmonton, and the city of Victoria is also considering logging on.
If approved by council, the pilot program in Coquitlam would cost around $6,000 a year.
At Wednesday’s finance committee meeting, city staff walked councillors through the software now employed in Markham, Ont., where budget feedback rose dramatically, from eight to 200 people. With that city’s customized program, residents were able to see how their taxes would rise if they chose to put more money into fire and police services, trails and parks or the arts, for example.
Still, a few Coquitlam councillors voiced concern about the program’s lack of controls — that is, if someone were to abuse it by registering multiple times and thereby influencing the budgetary decisions (city staff said they would look at how to tailor the system to validate participants).
And Coun. Terry O’Neill said while Citizen Budget could capture the mood of Coquitlam’s 139,000 residents, “this has to be taken with a grain of salt” as the results aren’t as scientific as those from the Ipsos Reid poll.
But Coun. Chris Wilson said he supports Citizen Budget. The provincial government has a similar online program called My BC Budget that worked well, he said.
“If we decide it doesn’t work, then we’ll go back to hosting the budget meetings,” said Sheena MacLeod, Coquitlam’s manager of financial services.