Should Windsor invest in a budget app?

The city of Windsor is considering testing out a new way to engage its citizens, and a local tech expert says it's worth the investment.

Municipalities starting to turn to apps to engage citizens in budget process

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, left, and City of Windsor CAO Helga Reidel address the media as details of the 2016 budget are released. One Windsor technology consultant says an online app would help engage citizens in the process. (CBC)

The City of Windsor is considering testing out a new way to engage its citizens in the budget process.

An online budget simulator allows residents to play around with the city's finances and figure out how they would spend they cash. 

"[Municipalities] get a more informed citizen reach," said Doug Satori, president of technology non-profit, Windsor Hackforge.

"The exercise is wonderful of going through a budget app like this because it really gives the elector who is working with that budget app a sense of what kind of trade-offs are needed and how that money was allocated in the budget."

A few Ontario municipalities are already using budget apps, including Guelph. Its online app launched in August ahead of staff drafting a budget in September, said Alison Springate, a spokesperson for the city.

"We were clear with residents that their feedback would be provided to city council for consideration during the budget process, however, those results would not inform city administration's development of the recommended 2016 budget," Springate wrote in an e-mail to CBC News.

She said the tool provided feedback to city council on their budget process and was designed to engage local residents. 

More than 4,500 people visited Guelph's budget site, she said, with 62 people sending in suggestions by the city's deadline. 

How it works

"Essentially, you have a set of sliders for the different parts of the city's budget and you can adjust those sliders up and down to move the proportion of the budget that is spent in that area," Satori said of Guelph's website.

If a resident wanted to spend more money on arts and culture, that person would move the slider to a higher amount. 

"You would get an indication on how that would impact the overall budget and also a sense of what kind of enhancement you might get," he said. "Whether there would be a little enhancement or a large enhancement to the arts and culture in the city."

Barrie, Markham and Innisfil, Ont. used similar tools this year as well.

Good return on investment?

The uptake has not been great, and.only a few dozen people have used budget apps in the city's where they've been introduced. But Sartori said it does have value.

"It's very important that a tool like this is implemented and that the benefits and communicated to the public so you do get that broad spectrum of the public participating," Satori said. 

It's worth it for Windsor to make the investment, he said.

"For cost, we're talking about in the low four to five figures, $6,000 to $10,000 to implement something like this," he said. "I think for the money, it would be an excellent value to the community."


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