SUNDRE — Provided plans go accordingly, residents will before very long be able to catch up on council proceedings from the comfort of their own home via video.
High definition cameras featuring the ability to pan, tilt and zoom — along with the hardware required to combine, manage and record various inputs — are to be installed in council chambers among other technological upgrades. The project is expected to cost about $64,666.
The move came by way of motion during the regular Feb. 8 council meeting conducted by teleconference.
While council had previously approved an expenditure of $40,000 to upgrade the technology as part of the 2021 10-year capital plan, provincial funding through the Municipal Operating Support Transfer program provided the town with some $283,000 to offset costs associated with mitigating the health risks of COVID-19. A portion of that grant can be allocated toward upgrading technology in council chambers.
“We saw the opportunity to actually enhance this a little bit more than what we were planning on,” said Chris Albert, director of corporate services.
Additionally, the grant allows the municipality to use that funding as opposed to previously budgeted funds, said Albert.
Administration considered a couple of vendors for the technological upgrades, which also involve replacing the existing microphone system with new units that offer improved sound quality as well as replacing display projectors to provide sharper images.
“The projectors are fading, they’re getting a little fuzzy. The microphone system and the sound system is a little bit dated,” said Albert.
The new set up will all feed into a centralized system and provide the ability to — at a minimum — record council meetings and possibly stream them at a later time, he said.
While the project had most recently been discussed during the fall workshop, the former council had also in 2017 started a discussion on potentially either streaming or at least recording and then later posting council meetings online.
“We have picked a vendor with the most promising technology,” said Albert, calling the system “very intuitive, very easy-to-use.”
Reminding council the cost of the project would be covered by the provincial grant funding, Albert said administration sought support to proceed with the project.
“The other thing that I’d like to mention, is that this technology will help to return council to in-person meetings and allow residents an additional avenue to receive information on council operations,” he said.
Coun. Todd Dalke moved for council to continue supporting administration’s effort to proceed with the chambers’ technology enhancement project.
Coun. Richard Warnock wondered whether the public would still be able to call in to join meetings remotely for the sake of physical distancing when council is finally able to resume in-person meetings.
“That technology could possibly be part of this,” said Albert.
“We’re still working out some of the final details of how it would incorporate everything. So, how we could get the public more involved, whether or not they can call in, participate in person, or view (the meeting) as a webinar, a presentation form only,” he said, adding there remains the matter of determining what the requirements are.
“But, in the end, I think most of it should be accomplished through this.”
Coun. Paul Isaac was pleased the project’s cost would be covered by grant funding.
“The only way I would support this going forward is if residents can call in and be part of our council meetings,” said Isaac, adding the reason council had started looking into such upgrades in the first place was to provide an opportunity for people to participate remotely.
The councillor went on to say he wasn’t getting the impression the upgrades would necessarily enable that.
“The technology that we are going with will absolutely allow it,” said Albert.
However, while people would be able to call in, he added that administration still had “to work out some of the nuances of how it exactly would work.”
He identified an issue with the signal that is coming into the municipal office.
“Because of how it’s established, we have a problem with continuity — with dropped calls, with dropped information that’s going out over the servers and the internet. So, we have to resolve that issue to get full participation…the technology will do it all, there’s just other limitations that we have to work around as well.”
Thanking administration for its effort on developing plans to upgrade council chambers, Dalke said, “We’ve been waiting three and a half long years to join the 21st century and have the ability to do that.”
A major roadblock on that path was the municipal office’s baseline functionality of available equipment, which could not do any of that. And while there remain some hurdles to overcome, the town will now have the technology to make those options possible, he said.
Isaac said he was fully in favour of offering the public an opportunity to remotely join council meetings from the comfort of their homes.
“What I’m worried about, is in three months or four months, administration coming back and saying, ‘We need to tweak this and we need tweak this, and it’s going to cost more to be able to have this happen.' That’s my only concern. If this is the final cost for all of that to happen, I’m OK. But I’m not convinced I’m necessarily hearing that right now.”
Mayor Terry Leslie said he recognized that broadband internet — or lack thereof — continues to be an issue, that some software issues might yet arise in the future, and that there might be additional costs that come forward.
“But because this is utilizing grant money that has already been provided to us, because it was already a project we were going to fund through our capital plan, I speak in favour of that motion,” said Leslie, who went on to call a vote. No one was opposed and the motion carried.