Tofino’s councillors want to choose their own computers and have those computers comped by their constituents.
Council is set to adopt a new remuneration policy that would allow each councillor to pick the machine they’ll work with each term and be reimbursed for up to $750 to purchase it.
Finalizing a new computer policy has been somewhat of a white whale for council as the issue has been on their desk for about two years.
The policy was first adopted in 2005 in an effort to ensure councillors could access meeting agendas and emails.
Under the original policy, the district office chose and purchased new devices for each councillor at the start of every term.
During an October 2014 meeting, district CAO Bob MacPherson tried to convince council to allow their staff to purchase their computers on an as-needed basis, rather than at the start of every term, and also to let these devices remain the property of the district, rather than the property of each councillor.
He said this would cut costs as computers could be handed down from outgoing to incoming councillors and added that council’s computers contain district-eyes-only information at-risk of being released to the general public by councillors who keep their computers after leaving office.
Council shot down MacPherson’s recommendation because they were unwilling to hand over their devices but, during the discussion, several councillors raised concern over the iPads staff had purchased for them that term.
This distaste for the iPad led council to direct staff to craft a new policy that would allow each councillor to choose their own machine and be reimbursed for their expense, rather than be supplied one by the district.
During a recent council meeting, MacPherson presented a draft policy that would have reimbursed council for up to $500 for a computer of their choice, but council did not believe this would cover their costs.
MacPherson stated in his report that the $500 amount was based on the average cost of computers for council’s last few terms as well as the current cost of an iPad Air, which retails for roughly $450.
Coun. Dorothy Baert was adamant that the $500 figure was too low.
“I don’t think $500 is sufficient,” she said. “I just bought a replacement computer for $1,500.”
She said councillors need up-to-date technology to be effective.
“This is for the work we’re doing and it needs to be supported,” she said. “I’d like the amount changed to $750.”
Coun. Al Anderson said $500 could cover the cost of a machine that could handle agendas and emails and suggested any capabilities beyond that shouldn’t be covered by taxpayers.
“Anything over and above that would be luxuries, more than is actually required for council work. So, I guess my point is, to what extent are we providing a computer or tablet, or whatever, to councillors for council work,” he asked.
“I think all councillors end up using their computers for personal work, and maybe personal business, as well as council things and whatever they buy should be partly funded personally, not fully funded by the district.”
He noted the Microsoft Surface computers used by council last term cost about $300 each.
“I think you can get lots of things for up to $500 that would cover council business,” he said.
Coun. Greg Blanchette agreed.
“If a $500 gizmo will do the job, then anything that I want over and above that I should pay for myself and I’m more than willing to do that,” he said.
Baert said the bump up to $750 would average out to roughly $180 per-year over council’s four-year term.
“I don’t think that’s a hugely onerous ask for the work that happens,” she said.
Baert also opposed a prorated system MacPherson had suggested where, after a term’s first year, the $750 amount would start to shrink.
MacPherson said the prorated system was to prevent last minute scores.
“One of the things we would hope to avoid is in the 47th month of a 48-month term, we get a receipt and a request for a computer from someone who doesn’t plan on running again,” he said.
Mayor Josie Osborne suggested bumping the amount to $750 and pushing back the prorated system so that it would kick in after two years instead of one.
“We’ve deliberated this a billion times in this term and we’re trying to set policies for future terms,” she said. “We’re still within the two years of our term, so anybody who goes out and buys a piece of technology today can have their reimbursement up to $750.”
Council approved Osborne’s compromise unanimously.
Baert asked whether the new policy’s effects would be immediate.
“Some of us have been waiting for this remuneration policy and have had no choice but to go out and get new technology,” she said.
Osborne assured her that, as long as she had a receipt, she could be reimbursed.