City of Toronto announces capital budget

The City of Toronto released its capital budget plans on Tuesday, allocating $401.98 million to Information and Technology over the next ten years. The 10-Year Recommended Capital Plan includes an estimated $15 million for a new SAP AG Landscape project. 

Toronto’s recommended capital budget for IT in 2010 is $47.24 million, with 81 per cent towards state of good repair projects and 19 per cent to service improvement projects, plus an additional $12.01 million carried forward from 2009.

“One of the interesting things is the far majority of our budget is state of good repair … which is all about continuing to evolve and keeping our platforms current, including SAP,” said Dave Wallace, CIO of the City of Toronto.

The SAP Landscape Project, like everything else, is a service that benefits others, noted Wallace. The project is there to continue to improve the platform, which has been a strategic platform for us for a long time, he said.

“If it is approved, then it will benefit many systems that can leverage the SAP environment in terms of improved integration and better business warehousing in business intelligence capability. It also allows for strategic growth in facilitating the new financial reporting systems and also in HR systems and so on,” said Wallace.

Wallace listed key projects in the works expected to produce “real benefits and savings” for the City of Toronto.

“We are getting off the mainframe in the next year, we are de-commissioning applications there, putting them on another platform, we are moving to a high-speed network that was announced the other day that is piggy-backing on a roll-out by the school boards that bring significant savings and enhanced capability to the city, we are moving to Voice over IP capability,” he said.

The city is also “very focused on disaster recovery plans, business continuity, obviously the Web … so there is lots going on, but it is within a contained environment and we are meeting our business requirements to the best degree we can,” said Wallace.

“I think what we’ve done is work very hard at a budget that will meet the needs of our clients, but understanding that there are priorities that have been handed down by council, the major, by our senior management, that we are meeting. It is a contained environment, so we’ve had to slow certain projects down, adjust certain deliverables, but overall, we are delivering,” he said.

The major focus of the 2010 capital budget for Toronto is on public transit and maintenance for roads and bridges.

Shelley Carroll, councillor and budget chair of the City of Toronto, discussed the city’s priorities and challenges at a Global Public Affairs event the morning after the budget was announced. There was little mention of IT at the event, but that doesn’t mean IT is a small area, noted Carroll after the event.

“It’s very important,” she said. “We can pretend that that’s a great place to save money, but in actual fact, part of having real control of spending, having real control of actions in the city – because of the size of the city and the numbers of bodies that Mr. Pennachetti (the city manager) has to manage – ultimately, that control comes through the appropriate IT solutions.”

Carroll highlighted the 311 program – which allows Torontonians to dial 311 for 24/7 access to city services – as an example of “any number of things in the capital budget where departments are not only upgrading, but giving us better connectedness to the centre frame.”

“311 is essentially a technology program, not a phone program … It does form a part of the capital budget, a large part of it, and it creates a challenge in our new commitment to having ten-year plans,” she said.

The challenge, according to Carroll, is planning for updates that might not have been invented yet. “We will put money in there to show that this is something that will have to be updated in this year … but every year, we will go back and review it and look for those things that need to be adapted and amended,” she said.

Also speaking at the event was Brian Zeiler-Kligman, director of policy at the Toronto Board of Trade, and National Post columnist Peter Kuitenbrouwer.

One of the greatest accomplishments Major David Miller has had is increasing the amounts of funding Toronto receives from provincial and federal government, said Zeiler-Kligman.

“If you took the year 2002 as a baseline, you see about a ten time increase in the levels of funding we are getting from senior governments … that equates to about $600 million more a year. The problem is that the city’s budget has grown by $1 billion dollars during that time, so we haven’t planned a way to contain our expenditures at the same time,” he said.

The good news is the stimulus the projects, the bad news is the city wasn’t able to find enough projects to receive its full share of the stimulus funding, said Zeiler-Kligman. “There is money, theoretically, still on the table that Toronto could have been able to get,” he said.

The long-term planning on the capital budget is also good news and something the Board has been calling for a very long time, he said. The bad news is the forecasting is not proving to be as reliable as he had hoped.

“The Board has been offering solutions for a number of years, some of them have been taken up after the fact by the city and we are supportive of those measures. We’d like to see more of those measures taken up, but we’d [also] like to see more of a public dialogue taking place,” he said.

The public can be stakeholders and problem solvers, so “let them in,” suggested Zeiler-Kligman. “We need to ensure that that opportunity is made available and currently, the way that the process happens at city hall, it doesn’t tend to open up to everyone,” he said.

The capital budget came out on November 3 and the public consultations happen on November 13, which is only ten days, Zeiler-Kligman pointed out.

“That was what happened with last year’s operating budget as well. We had a period of ten days, just under 240 hours, in which people can go through an 800- or so page budget and try to determine what municipal workers and politicians have been working on for six or eight months to determine if there are savings that can be found,” he said.

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