Sunday, March 1, 2009

Just What Can $45,000 Worth of Cameras Do?

An item of note at last week's council meeting was the proposal that we spend $45,000 of general budget money to buy cameras to watch the Diefenbaker Bridge. The output from this camera would be watched by police, who would then, theoretically, be able to respond more quickly when an accident on the bridge occurred. Should this accident be one that blocks traffic completely, then the idea is that the police would be able to get there more quickly, and the disruption to the traffic flow would not last as long. In theory, this sounds like a good thing.

However, even when somebody tells me that something is a good thing, part of my job is to question, and to find out how much of a good thing it could be. When assessing a potential purchase using tax payers' money, I try to look at two things - how serious is the risk, and how much improvement to the current situation will be made.

How serious is the risk? Well, over the last ten years, the average number of times in a year that traffic is stopped on the bridge, is six. Once every second month. And this stoppage isn't always caused by an accident - sometimes it's material dropped off a load headed to the land fill that blocks traffic, sometimes it's been large buildings being moved across the bridge, and those responsible haven't bothered to get the required permit from police. New cameras will not help either of those situations.

And how much improvement will cameras bring to the situation? The improvement is so small, that I wonder how it could be measured. Improvement in police response time, if these cameras will be installed, is 0.1%. That means, that if the current police response time to an accident on the bridge is ten minutes (just an example for sake of argument), then the improvement would be 0.1% of ten minutes. With 600 seconds in ten minutes, the improvement would be .6 of a second - six-tenths of a second. If the current response time is less, then the improvement is correspondingly less. If I was waiting in a car stuck behind such an accident, I'm not sure that the difference would be perceptible.

And that is just for the police getting there. This will not clear the bridge any faster - police don't do that, tow trucks do. It won't remove the injured any faster - ambulances do that.

What happens when an accident occurs on the bridge now? Usually, someone on the scene uses a cell phone to call 911, who then call everyone who has to be there to help out the situation. More serious accidents, of course, take longer to clear up. Getting the police there less than a second quicker will not change this.

To me, it seemed only sensible that this expenditure isn't the best use of $45,000 of general budget money. If the police think that this expenditure is that important, why wasn't it part of their budget? (Although if it was, I still wouldn't think that it was a good use of tax payers' money.) And at last week's executive meeting, all those present agreed. However, when it came to council this week, although no additional information had been presented, and the facts remain as they were the week before, some councillors changed their minds, and the matter has now been approved by council and put into the budget.

In the total city budget, $45,000 is not a lot of money. But as I've said repeatedly, we have to look at every expenditure, large and small, and avoid spending any amount of money foolishly, because it's not our money that we're spending. And we have to look at the whole budget, not just bits and pieces ahead of time, because that just limits our options when it gets to the actual budgeting process.

I keep saying it, and hoping that at some point, I'll be heard.

I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying." - Michael Jordan

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