Council takes a bold step away from paper

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
November 12th, 2009

Amid budget discussions which had been initiated early this year by a council keen to reduce City operating costs (and resulting tax burden on residents), council recently purchased new laptops for councillors and city staff.

“We purchased eight laptops complete with software and accessories. It came to $6,738.35,” explained city Clerk Tracey Butler. “I thought it was a good deal considering the software we got with it. We had budgeted $7,000 so we came in under budget.”

At first blush it may appear that City Hall is adding extra expenses to its operating costs; however, the motivations behind the project were quite the opposite. The purchase of the laptops was an effort to move the City of Rossland towards a paperless operation, reducing their impact on the environment and saving money in the long run.

“It fits with our whole green theme,” added Butler. “It’s really the only way to go. The only other municipalities in the area that are paperless are Grand Forks and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.”

The eight IBM Thinkpads purchased were distributed to city councillors and the Mayor (Council Laurie Charlton chose not to accept a laptop), the city clerk and one for either the incoming CAO or to have as a backup.

On seeing the new computers sitting at each councillor’s space in council chambers this past Monday night as he walked in, Councillor Charlton remarked, “I see our short meeting tonight just turned into a long one,” to which Councillor Moore replied, “Enough of the negativity.”

When contacted later in the week, Charlton explained his reasoning for not accepting one of the new laptops. “My preference is for paper. Just in the way I work I try and make lots of notes and add other documents into the package that I think are relevant. If the rest want to use the computers that’s fine. You know it doesn’t bother me any.”

Anyone who has attended a council meeting or leafed through a typical meeting’s agenda package can tell you that City Hall goes through a lot of paper in the course of a year. Butler spent a number of hours recently attempting to come up with some figures on just how much paper council uses and the accompanying costs the city could save by going paperless.

“It’s tough because every meeting is different, but regular meetings alone including paper, photocopying costs and staff costs come to about $2,890 a year. That’s for regular meetings only. We had 21 regular meetings this year. Then we had 32 other meetings on top of that. Those other meetings don’t use as much paper as a regular meeting. They range from 20 pages to 320 pages. I just counted the regular meetings in that first number. I didn’t include colour costs in that figure either, just black and white. I’ve figured the laptops will pay for themselves in a year and a half to two years.”

As noted by Butler, the task of counting every page in every package over the course of the year could be a full time job on its own. The estimates done, however, suggest that with the new laptops, the city will save approximately $5,000 a year on paper and associated costs.

While there will certainly be a learning curve for the councillors in adapting to the new form of agendas and information, the slowdown anticipated by Charlton didn’t present itself at the first meeting. Cruising through a moderate agenda, council wrapped up Monday night’s meeting in an unusually quick two hours.


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