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Mar 28,2005 - Now News


By Leneen Robb - Staff Reporter - Now Newspaper

Port Moody-Westwood MLA Christy Clark will make a funding announcement Tuesday regarding the future of, a web portal overseen by the Smart Choices Society.

The society has cost Coquitlam and Port Moody taxpayers nearly $5 million in cash and in-kind contributions since it was founded about five years ago.

When Industry Canada, School District 43 and Douglas College contributions are factored in, that figure tops $9.5 million.

The NOW first reported March 5 that an announcement regarding the future of the Smart Choices Society, which has not managed to become financially sustainable, would likely come before the end of the month.

A news release issued Thursday states that, "The society is taking steps to ensure the legacy of Smart Choices by evolving into three separate practice areas that will facilitate the integration of local operations, the export of technology to other communities and growth as an e-Community Centre of Excellence."

Smart Choices spokesperson Hilary Horlock said in an interview that an "e-Community Centre of Excellence" is similar to a think tank.

She likened it to "an entity that reviews all of the things that have to do with e-community and acts as an impartial information centre."

When asked whether people would pay to access information, she said the Smart Choices board has not yet figured that out.

"But it could be like a resource centre for communities considering implementation of an e-community or any types of e-government initiatives or any web strategies that municipalities are contemplating," she said.

"It could be a resource centre, so how fees are attached to that has yet to be determined."

Smart Choices has been the subject of closed-door meetings at both Coquitlam and Port Moody city halls recently, after concerns were raised about its failure to become financially sustainable.

Audited financial statements are not yet available for 2004, despite the fact that the 2003 ones were dated Feb. 13, 2004.

She said the information could be available "in matter of days," but did not have a reason for the delay.

Both Coquitlam and Port Moody have given loans - totalling $350,000 - that are supposed to be repayable when Smart Choices becomes financially sustainable.

In addition, Port Moody allocated $40,000 towards the society for 2005. City spokesperson Colleen Rohde, who is also vice-chair of the Smart Choices board, said Thursday the city is no longer required to pay the $40,000.

The funds will likely go back into the city's general revenue account, she said.

Board chair Jennifer Wilkie is quoted in the news release as saying that, "The cities continue to have the full use of the tools and services as they are delivered now, minus the day-to-day burden of maintenance and infrastructure costs" - which implies the cities are off the hook financially.

Wilkie did not immediately return a request for an interview.

Tuesday's announcement is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Innovation Centre, located at 1207 Pinetree Way in Coquitlam.

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