May 7,2005 - Tri City News
By Diane Strandberg
The Tri-City News
May 07 2005
The city of Coquitlam paid for travel, consultant fees, meeting expenses, office furniture and interior design to develop citysoup.ca.
But staff time accounted for most of the $1.8 million worth of in-kind services invoiced to the Smart Choices Society between 2001 and 2004.
The city of Coquitlam also contributed $1.5 million in cash to the project, which was launched with $4.5 million from Industry Canada.
Citysoup.ca provides links to civic government services, online payment of bills and recreation programs, as well as links to local schools, a community calendar, news headlines, the weather and other local information, plus a template for setting up and hosting websites for businesses and community community groups.
According to documents obtained by The Tri-City News under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the city spent $24,000 on travel, some of which was reimbursed, provided office space worth $1,500 a month, and paid $6,552 for office furniture, $22,437 for interior design, $59,178 in consulting fees, $2,000 for home-based business awards, and $845 for an exhibition booth.
Coquitlam corporate planner Jennifer Wilkie was seconded to head up the project in December 2000 and saw it through to its conclusion in 2004. Other city staff seconded to the project were Len Hicks, from the city's Internet, Communications and Telephone (ICT) department, and Edie Doepker, a leisure services manager. Both have since left the city's employ.
Additional city employees were brought in to work on various components of the project. Leisure and parks workers helped create the community website and develop a volunteer network, and ICT employees worked on integrating city services into the internet for bill payment and other city services. For example, the city contributed $58,095 in staff time in May 2002, $62,043 in June 2002, and $63, 981 in April 2003 - some of the most active months.
Citysoup.ca went online in 2002 and included a business innovation centre next to Evergreen Cultural Centre on Pinetree Way, in a building owned by the city, a web broadcast centre in Port Moody, another key partner in citysoup.ca, free computers with internet access and support services.
Funding wrapped up in at the end of 2003 and Smart Choices was supposed to be self-sustaining.
But in 2004, Coquitlam contributed $111,554 to the project.
Port Moody and Coquitlam also loaned Smart Choices $350,000 in bridge financing, which will be paid back over time.
"The money spent is less than we would have spent to upgrade all the [(citys computer'> systems. The bonus is we got a good portion of that from the feds," Mayor Jon Kingsbury said this week. "They got us up ahead of where we would have been."
Wilkie said city money spent on the project was well spent because the communities have an award-winning model for communicating with citizens and taxpayers.
"I feel tremendous pride in what we've accomplished," she said. "I feel very hopeful that the e-community concept can contribute to more open and connected communities."