Despite an early technical glitch, organizers of the city's first e-town hall budget consultation are calling the event a success.
"It's always a little unnerving when you're trying a new process and you need to learn... but I think we had great diversity of questions and it was especially nice to have an external moderator to help with the flow and I think some really good information got shared tonight," said city communications and engagement manager Chris Bone.
Over the course of an hour and a half, including a 20-minute delay due to webcast audio problems, staff gave presentations on the city's budget process, a summary of interim responses to the online survey and answered close to 30 questions submitted by the public.
Although she couldn't say definitively, Bone estimated that the majority of questions were sent in from online users, as opposed to via telephone. There were two people who attended the session in person at city hall.
"As with any kind of a consultation process it's a little give and take," Bone said. "There's an input portion but there's also an opportunity for the city to provide some input and information for residents they might not have already known."
Questions covered a variety of topics, including city plans to improve sidewalks or add more funding for parks and trails, tax rates, the library, bylaw enforcement, council remuneration and use of consultants.
Queries relating to the same issue were lumped together and those not specifically relating to city services appeared to be filtered out.
Responses to any questions that required more information than staff had on hand to answer were deferred to a report that is coming to an Oct. 28 committee of the whole meeting. These were inquiries about what percentage of the city's wages were paid to non-unionized employees and how much of the budget goes to the city's active transportation plan.
Organizers took the level of participation in the process as a positive sign, given only one person came to ask questions of council during February's budget meetings and only two people took advantage of the opportunity in 2012.
An online survey generated 270 responses during the 2013 budget process. So far, the survey for the 2014 budget has received 51 responses.
Of those respondents, 69 per cent have indicated they are in favour of limiting next year's tax levy increase to 2.5 per cent. When asked to rank satisfaction with city services, 42 per cent said they were very dissatisfied with the city's financial management, 42 per cent very satisfied with garbage collection and 31 per cent very dissatisfied with bylaw enforcement.
The survey will continue to be available until Friday at 5 p.m. through the city's website, which Bone stressed is just one piece of the information council considers when deliberating on the budget. Public input sessions will also be available at the beginning of the council budget meetings, the first of which takes place Nov. 27.
Bone said that through the Mayor's Task Force on Crime, they've picked up on the value of providing a diversity of options for feedback to get better participation.
"So we learned something tonight, this was a first step," she said. "We used technology in a fairly minor way, we were just kind of testing the water, and I think this is a process that will be enhanced over the years."
The webcast of the consultation is available on the city's website.