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Richmond council spends $3.2 million on pre-Christmas goodies

Richmond council is spending $63,000 to renew its licence with an online service aimed at expanding the city's public consultation reach.

Let's Talk Richmond is one of 11 items elected officials are putting under Richmond City Hall's Christmas tree this month that total $3,188,000.

The new spending, endorsed Monday, makes use of budget surplus cash squirrelled away in an account whose pursestrings are opened at budget time. The account—established a year ago—allows council to approve new one-time expenses without looking like Scrooge by directly increasing taxes.

Let's Talk Richmond is set to be renewed for three years. The website was first used to gather public input during the city's overhaul of the Official Community Plan. It has since been used to collect feedback on other projects, including the Garden City lands.

Quizzed by Coun. Bill McNulty, senior manager of corporate communications Ted Townsend told council the web tool has "significantly" increased participation in public consultations.

"We're seeing good numbers in terms of the people who are visiting the site, and the amount of time they're spending on the site, which is far more than we would get through our traditional tool of public open house."

Other one-time expenses: $950,000 for equipment repairs at Watermania, $550,000 for future waterfront improvement projects, $500,000 to boost the city's maintenance budget, $450,000 for major events and $220,000 for sister city activities over the next three years.

Council also agreed to spend $140,000 to continue a five-year program to combat wire theft. Now in year three, two workers are tasked with removing approximately 2,000 streetlight access covers each year and replacing them with reinforced covers.

Other projects include planning: $190,000 for a consultant to review fire and police services, $75,000 on a community needs assessment and $50,000 for Gateway Theatre to study facility needs.

The spending leaves $2.1 million in the new account, which will get a boost once the 2013 surplus is finalized. Staff are already forecasting it to be $6.7 million, nearly double last year's.

The larger surplus lies mainly with emergency services, according to staff.

Richmond RCMP is $2.7 million under budget this year due to lower than expected  police salaries and a reduction in RCMP divisional administration. Richmond Fire-Rescue meanwhile is expected to have a surplus of $1.17 million due to 15 vacancies. Recruiting is ongoing, according to the report, and positions are expected to be filled early next year.

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