BY CRAIG GILBERT
Greater SudburyÂ?s head of economic development had to make some phone calls Friday morning after the routine awarding of three contracts was deferred.
At their regular meeting Thursday night, council deferred a motion to award supply contracts to implement two technology-based economic development initiatives.
Connect Ontario and the creation of a Geographical Information System (GIS) are projects designed to keep Sudbury ahead of the pack when it comes to information or Â?smartÂ? technology.
Economic Development General Manager Doug Nadorozny said the software will take some city processes online and will make city staff more efficient.
The software builds on the broadband fibre optic cables installed to make Sudbury a Â?smartÂ? city.
The creators of Chilly Beach, an animated cartoon produced in Sudbury, chose to set up shop here in large part due to that broadband capacity.
Nadorozny said he would have a better idea as to how the private sector partners, which contributed $300,000 of the $3.6 million project total, would react to the delay Monday.
Also of concern to him is the fact the city has signed contracts with the province. His staff was also working Friday to find out whether the delay will cost the city funding from the federal and provincial governments for the project.
The cityÂ?s share is one third, or $1.2 million.
Councillor Andre Rivest seconded a motion by Frances Caldarelli to defer the motion to the next council meeting.
Both were concerned over the $1.5 million total value of the contracts being awarded so close to the 2004 city budget process.
Both were assured the funding was budgeted for and has been approved by council, and that all they were doing is choosing what contractor the funding is going to.
Veteran councillor Edon Gainer warned his seven new counterparts not to throw away millions from the public and private sector in a panic.
Â?I think it would be hasty to scrap the project to save $1.5 million,Â? he said. Â?These should have been awarded last year, or the year before; then our city would be enjoying this and be one step closer to being a smart community, if thatÂ?s ever possible. This has been OKÂ?d by dozens of groups, government agencies, private institutions; itÂ?s been vetted and vetted again.Â?
The funding is budgeted for and has been approved by council already, he said.
Â?We have a chance to become a leader, donÂ?t toss away $2 million from the government and private sector.Â?
Rivest said the technology projects are luxury items compared to the cityÂ?s roads, and he wanted to check every expense to make sure the money was being spent wisely.
Nadorozny appreciated the fact that council is feeling the weight of the upcoming budget process, but warned there are many partnerships tied to these projects.
Â?I guess it would be a significant risk (to lose funding from other sources),Â? he said. Â?All weÂ?re doing here is approving a RFP, itÂ?s not an approval of the project.Â?
The province, he said, wouldnÂ?t likely take kindly to the concept of the city pulling out of contracts they have signed.
GIS and Connect Ontario are two separate contracts with two different ministries.
It isnÂ?t the 15 or 30 day delay that is the problem, Nadoronzy said, given the project has taken four years to this point. ItÂ?s the concept of uncertainty from city hall at this late stage in the game.
The private sector, he said, doesnÂ?t sit around for years at a time waiting for something to happen. There was some trepidation in his voice when he spoke of the conversations he was going to have with partners there over the next few days.
Technology giant Microsoft, he said, has its own projects going on in Sudbury. They want to use Sudbury as a pilot for technology in Canada, he said, showing a promotional video from a subsidiary about a city called Â?NewburyÂ? where people share information wirelessly to do business faster and better.
Microsoft sent a publication mentioning Sudbury specifically to all 60,000 of its worldwide partners.
GIS is basically a database program that combines multiple groups of data and makes sense of them on a map. A map of Greater Sudbury could be colour-coded to show where new construction is taking place or police activity.
It is the Â?coreÂ? of the virtual infrastructure.
Connect Ontario is geared more toward being able to say the city is tech savvy.
This means being able to say to potential investors and developers that 70 per cent of the cityÂ?s residents have the
Internet in their homes.