City to host first e-town hall budget meeting

NANAIMO – Citizens will have a variety of ways to address council over budget issues March 25.

Nanaimo residents will have the benefit of social media to engage city council with questions, concerns or comments on how tax dollars are spent as the city embarks on hosting its first e-Town Hall Budget meeting.

Scheduled for March 25 at 7 p.m., the beginning of a regularly scheduled council meeting, council and staff will take financial plan questions live through Twitter, Facebook and phone calls.

An Internet page will also be set up for people who want to ask a question in advance – questions can be submitted starting Sunday (March 17) – and people wanting to attend the meeting in person in the Shaw Auditorium at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre will also have an opportunity to address council.

Coun. George Anderson, who introduced the e-town hall meeting and won council’s approval, said the event is designed to engage the public on an important subject.

“One of the things I’ve been working on since being elected is to get more people involved in council meetings and engaged in city business,” said Anderson, who tweets regularly on municipal issues. “And there is a large group of people locally who do use social media, so if that’s a resource we can tap into to generate interest in the budget, the city’s biggest and most important document that we do every year, then that’s an opportunity we should take advantage of.”

White Rock is the only other B.C. municipality that has hosted an e-town hall meeting.

The event is in line with the city’s corporate strategic plan priority of taking responsibility to be an excellent municipal government, one of six priorities derived from extensive public consultation to guide the city for the next two decades.

Philip Cooper, the city’s communications officer, said planning for the event is mostly completed thanks to a concerted effort by the city’s IT staff.

“They’ve been instrumental in creating the system that really drives the business of getting the inquiries in to the city, having them read and then presented to both council and administration for the actual asking of the question,” said Cooper.

On Facebook, people can register to ask questions at cnan.ca/fbtown hall, and a hashtag for Twitter will be announced the day of the event. People who prefer to phone in live to the town hall meeting can dial 250-754-4251, and those who prefer to watch on television can tune into the regular council meeting broadcast on channel 4, or online at the city’s website at www.nanaimo.ca/goto/livevideo.

The financial plan can be found at www.nanaimo.ca/goto/budgetinfo.

The first hour of the meeting is set aside for questions, though an additional 30 minutes may be added if demand requires it before council gets down to regular business.

Anderson said because this is the inaugural e-town hall budget meeting, there is no indication how much participation can be expected.

“We’ve opened up every single avenue and I’ll be really disappointed if people don’t get involved,” he said. “For me, if this doesn’t work out, I see this as being the last town hall the city does because some members of council don’t like the idea of town halls and if this doesn’t work, later on council will be able to say we tried it and it wasn’t successful. I really hope people do get involved.”

Time is reserved at regular council meetings from January through April for public comment or concerns on the budget.

Council is currently deliberating the 2013 budget, which includes property tax rate increases, before it passes into legislation before May 15.