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Petition against $1 million Web site to go to council Monday



A petition with roughly 250 names will go before council Monday night as residents react to a proposed million-dollar municipal Web site.

"My goal was to make the community and council aware of their spending habits," said Chris Quinlan, who spear-headed the petition.

Quinlan started the petition after hearing about the estimated costs of creating an e-government Web site.

"It's a significant investment so I would be surprised if people hadn't reacted," said Diana Waltmann, information officer with the municipality.

The Web site offers users a virtual version of municipal hall where they can pay their parking tickets, buy dog permits, or register for parks and recreation classes, from the comfort of their homes.

But its critics say it’s too much money and too high-tech for Whistler.

"No Web site in the world is worth $1 million," said Quinlan in a previous interview.

The firm costs of the site were only made available to the public after a needs assessment and a detailed design were completed earlier this year.

The cost for this portion of the research was $143,000 but it was necessary in order to proceed with the project, said Waltmann.

"A detailed design is something most physical capital construction projects have," she said.

"This is a digital version."

Before doing the detailed design, a process that investigates the whole project in close detail, the municipality sent out an expression of interest to tender the project.

They got 27 replies, four of which were from local companies.

Waltmann said two of those local companies are now defunct.

"It's a huge project," she said.

"It requires a long established company and a long established team of professionals with proven technology."

This proposed site goes far beyond the capabilities of the current site, which cost $10,000 and is very limiting, said Waltmann.

"It was always meant to be an interim site," she said.

A Utah-based company called Novell, which also has offices in Canada, completed the detailed design portion of the project and will eventually create the final Web site if council moves forward with the recommendations.

Novell has been a supplier to the municipality for the past 10 years.

"We had contacted a number of different Web design and Web development companies in the Lower Mainland... but we really had specific goals... and Novell had the technology to enable us to achieve what we wanted to achieve," said Waltmann.

Novell has helped create other sites like this for Toronto, the Department of Defence, and the state of Texas. Toronto’s site cost $4 million.

Quinlan said Whistler does not have the same kind of needs as a place like Toronto.

But others say that Whistler must move ahead with the times.

"We may be a town with a population of nine to ten-thousand but we're not your average (small) town," said Councillor Dave Kirk.

"We're inviting the world to our door here and we need to be able to communicate."

The money for the Web site was outlined in the municipality's Five Year Plan with an estimated cost of $1.4 million.

Now that the detailed design has been completed, it only remains for council to give the go ahead to staff's recommendations.

"We want a council resolution to proceed because of the significance of the project," said Waltmann.

"Even though the expenditure has been approved, council knew that we were going to come with a recommendation or a proposal."

Kirk said council would take into account the public's concern as shown by the petition and letters to the municipality.

"Should we look at this again?" asked Kirk. "Maybe this might happen. I don't know."

As with other controversial spending by the municipality, the feeling among community members is mixed.

"I've been receiving positive comments as well as negative comments," said Waltmann.

Quinlan is planning to attend Monday's council meeting when his letter and petition go before council.