Halifax City hall through the memorial arch
Budget Committee

Special Budget Committee, Dec. 1, 2020

Budget Committee Focuses on the priorities for the HRM for the next 4 years.
 | December 1, 2020

Present:

Mayor Mike Savage

Councillor Kathy Deagle-Gammon (District 1)

Councillor David Hendsbee (District 2)

Councillor Becky Kent (District 3)

Councillor Trish Purdy (District 4)

Councillor Sam Austin (District 5)

Councillor Tony Mancini (District 6)

Councillor Waye Mason (District 7)

Councillor Lindell Smith (District 8)

Councillor Shawn Cleary (District 9)

Councillor Kathryn Morse (District 10)

Councillor Patty Cuttell (District 11)

Councillor Iona Stoddard (District 12)

Councillor Pam Lovelace (District 13)

Councillor Lisa Blackburn (District 14)

Councillor Paul Russell (District 15)

Councillor Tim Outhit (District 16)

Absent: 

N/A

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

Today HRM’s Budget Committee met and discussed what objectives the city will focus on and work towards making a reality over the next four years. 

While the exact definitions aren’t important to most people who live in the HRM, the word choice plays a key role in directing staff whether they’re developing policies to bring to council or implementing policies that get passed at council. For example in the community section, there was a debate about whether or not communities should be “involved” or “partners” with the municipality. That may seem inconsequential and vague but in practice, it’s the difference between the city asking for community input versus giving communities a seat at the table.  

For the people who aren’t massive nerds, the discussions of today’s budget committee meeting may seem like a useless waste of time. With the vague language above it seems important to explain the ‘why’ of today’s meeting. So bear with us, as we abuse a metaphor to explain the point of today’s committee. 

On this flight of fancy let’s, for a second imagine COVID-19 doesn’t exist, and the large-meals-during-winter-with-intergenerational-family gathering season isn’t cancelled. This family has a handful grandparents, a slew of families, some with teenage children, some with toddlers and infants, marriage to outside families, different faiths to accommodate, family members living throughout the world, etc. And, of course, that one weird bachelor aunt or uncle who parents use as a tale of warning. Although, that usually means Weird Uncle is living their best life and their siblings are just jealous. 

Where were we? Right, planning a feast. 

Strategic Priority Outcome Planning: A Metaphor

The family has to decide early, usually in June or July, where everyone will meet. This is where priorities are hashed out, and these decisions shape the rest of the planning. Does the family want to get the most people together for as long as possible? If so, it doesn’t make sense for Weird Uncle to host in the back of his no-fixed-address-school-bus-turned-home, and it’s too much travel for most people. But if the family had last winter ruined by a global pandemic and wants to live a little? Maybe it does make sense for Weird Uncle to host. 

In this metaphor, today’s meeting was deciding what, in general, winter vacation should look like. In this meeting, council decided what, in general, the city’s budgetary priorities should be. 

It’s not important in this meeting to hammer out the nitty-gritty details because some of it is implied, and some isn’t an issue yet. For example, accommodating Cathy’s daughter’s newfound veganism isn’t an issue yet. It’s also implied that if grandma’s hosting the kitchen will be clean enough to cook in.  

The approval of the strategic outcomes allows the city’s business units to do their work.

Business Units: The Responsible Adults

In this metaphor that’s still serving some use, the ‘business units’ are the members of the family that actually make things happen. If the Metaphor Family decided they wanted a large dinner at Grandma’s on December 23rd, that gives other family members the information they need to start making plans and spending money. In this case, the business units are the members of each household that are making the plan happen. Some of the organizational stuff is evident: travel to and from Grandma’s house, any accommodations required, all of that stuff planned around Dec 23rd, is straight forward. The people who take charge and plan their family’s travel, or plan the meal, or pitch in some way, those people are filling the role of the ‘business units’. 

The lazy teenagers playing Fortnite on the couch after “taking a walk” with Weird Uncle, that’s us, the citizenry. 

Why the vague language matters so much is because of how it will be interpreted by the ‘business units’ later on. What do they think ‘large’ means? Does that mean there ought to be vegan options so Cathy’s family of seven can make it? Does it mean someone has to pay for Weird Uncle’s plane ticket since he’s broke, or is there enough people for the dinner to be considered ‘large’ without him? 

That really is the important part of the budget committee’s debate today. They’ve told staff what they believe should be a priority. In two weeks on Dec. 15, 2020, staff will come back with their framework which will include the suggestions from today for council’s approval. 

To find out what those suggestions are and what the debate was, keep scrolling.    

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Savage: Good morning, it’s the first day of December. Welcome to everyone watching and our friends in the media. Budget first, then council. Future budget meetings will be chaired by Councillor Russell, as is custom, for us to have the Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee running the Budget Committee (proceeds to do roll call).

Savage: We need to thank our staff at city hall, they’ve done a lot of work to respond to COVID. From 15 minute parking to help businesses, to curbside pickup, to drive through COVID testing, to the Christmas lights, it’s all them. Thank you to our hard working city staff. On to the budget planning framework. Handing off to the CAO.

CAO: The CFO is here too, this report and conversation will allow us to get you a budget by April 1-ish. Handing it off to the CFO to walk you through this, but we’ve incorporated public feedback into this document. 

CFO (Jane Fraser): For the new councillors, we’ve come back with the four priorities from November, with a plan on how to get there. We’ll debate them one at a time. We’ve also had staff start fleshing out some of these priorities into actual plans that the business units (business units are the parts of our municipal government that implement the policies council passes) can implement. This is a framework we’re doing today, we’ll get the gritty details on what we want to do on Jan. 12, and the spending approval happens with the budget. We’re going to be showing you the areas, as we understand them, that you’ve ID’d as a priority

Wendy Lines (Corporate Planning Manager): Four recommendations. Approve planning framework, approve the priorities plans and reporting process, remove the budget allocator tool, and approve our meeting schedule. (She makes this presentation, starting at page 8). The priority areas have been simplified and broaden, healthy livable communities and social development were combined into ‘Communities’ to make it easier for staff to work towards the priorities. We’ve also added ‘Environment’. The other changes are to remove redundancy. These priorities will be integrated into specific policies with metrics to measure their success. One of the challenges of the HRM is our city is urban, suburban and rural. We’re going to pause to talk about proposed council priorities for a ‘Prosperous Economy’ (a prosperous welcoming and growing economy positions Halifax as a business and tourism destination of choice, with economic opportunities for all): Economic Growth (economic opportunities are seized to promote and maximize growth, reduce barriers for businesses, and showcase the region’s strengths to the world), Holistic Planning (improved affordability, inclusion, and business competitiveness through integrated planning), Talent Attraction & Retention (a welcoming community that attracts and retains the world’s talent). 

Hendsbee: Is there going to be a tax structure change to better reflect the Integrated Mobility Plan

CFO: On Dec. 15 we’ll be outlining the taxation principles moving forward. This is not really part of this discussion, because it’s more about taxation fairness, as opposed to the priorities we’re talking about today.

*Technical difficulties with Savage’s computer getting the chat notifications to see if people want to speak, chat functionality is broken in Microsoft Teams, taking a break to fix it*

Savage: We’re back, discussing priority number one. 

Cuttell: A lot of what was said the other day was included. I like that the what and the how are separate. Not having housing for our residents is a huge risk, so I’m glad to see affordable housing on there. Is there a way to be more specific and strategic with our growth plan so we’re not just growing for growth’s sake? Since growth affects everything from communities to the environment. The proposed word change I put forward were for ‘Communities’, not the ‘Prosperous Economy’. I’d like to be more specific about our economy. We do it with tourism, so we should be able to do it here.  

Lovelace: Following Councillor Cuttell, while I agree we need distribution of wealth, we need to make sure businesses that aren’t in urban areas get the support they need. I also think we should maybe add ‘sustainability’ to this plan. As well as ‘equity’, for how resources are distributed. I’d also like to add ‘comprehensive’, so we aren’t limited to the tools we currently use. It would force us to think outside the box. 

Mason: Agree with a lot I’ve heard so far. We need to be careful with the differentiation between rural and urban, we want all our small business to survive. I disagree with staff not including affordable housing in this framework. I would propose we change the language to include it. I think we need to include affordable housing, specifically, in our framework to send a message to provincial and federal counterparts. This is the thing we heard the most on the doorsteps during the election. How do I do that, a motion? 

Savage: I think we’re just getting consensus? 

Lines: I can take these as suggestions and come back, or we can do motions and make it final today. I was hoping for consensus today. 

Mason: Can we ask for consensus? Should we do a vote? 

Savage: I know you said, Wendy, that this was a jurisdictional issue so it wasn’t included. But do we all want it? 

Various: Yes.

Lines: It’s added.

Deagle-Gammon: Can we change ‘Halifax’ to ‘HRM’? A lot of people read Halifax as the city. 

Savage: How about ‘municipality’? 

Deagle-Gammon: Yup.

Cuttell: There’s been a decline in local economies, and commercial activity in our rural areas. They play a valuable role in tourism and growing the tax base, but they also provide needed services in rural communities. So I think it’s important to add it. 

Lines: We can do it in the aspirational goal, or address it directly in the economic growth outcome statement. 

Cuttell: I’m not sure it’s strong enough for what I mean. I have to think about that a bit, but I don’t know if I can do it on the spot. 

CAO: Perhaps have a conversation offline with Wendy Lines and come back with a better version? 

Cuttell: Works for me. 

Savage: I think we all want to support our local economies. 

Cuttell: I don’t think saying local excludes other things, it’s just making sure we highlight that these rural small businesses really support local economies 

Lines: On to the next priority area, ‘Communities’. We have homelessness as an impending crisis. There are a number of strategic areas that encompassed homelessness, but not one that addresses it directly. Food security is also a priority and we have a number of policies in place that address it. Mental health is a priority, but it’s hard because it’s not really within what we can provide as a city. We do address it when we come to how we develop policies.    

Cuttell: I love strategic plans, so I did a deep dive. We’ve changed the words to make it so ‘Involved Communities’ is good, but I think we need to see our communities as partners. The province and federal governments bring in community groups as partners instead of advocates, I want to see us do that too. The three priority outcomes, homelessness, food security and mental health aren’t reflected in the language of the strategic initiative. So how does that work? 

Lines: They all work together. These documents direct specific staff at various levels and roles to complete specific tasks, to make sure what you want to happen comes to fruition. 

Cuttell: Can we change ‘age-friendly’? I want to make sure it encompasses everyone from children to the elderly. 

Lines: It was supposed to mean all-ages, we’ll make that work. 

Deagle-Gammon: I also enjoy strategic planning. It does seem that our volunteer community fills the gap, I think including the respect for volunteerism would be welcome. 

Lines: This under ‘Inclusive Communities’? 

Deagle-Gammon: Yes. 

Lovelace: I want to make sure we include the entire life spectrum when it comes to ages. All ages could work, but I want to make sure from babies to seniors, everyone’s included. If all ages works for that, then great. I want to agree with the volunteerism, they address a lot of the barriers that we can’t as a council. Going back to ‘Involved Communities’, the role of communities in growing their local economies. ‘Involved Communities’ needs to mean our citizens are stewards of their communities. 

Lines: On to ‘Integrated Mobility’, pedestrian safety remains an imperative for council. It’s a strategic risk for our city. Staff is implementing a strategy on road safety. We heard that suburban and rural communities aren’t served that well, even though we’ve made some improvements. No language changes proposed, feedback? 

Outhit: We need smarter and better growth, when the two community councils met we talked a lot about this, when we talk about the Integrated Mobility Plan, we need to make sure our transit plans include development. Every councillor outside of the city has heard from people that commuting is worse. How do we make sure this transit plan is included with the plan for how the city grows? 

Kelly Dente (Director of Planning and Development): *Technical difficulties*

Tanya Davis: I’ll take a stab at this, we didn’t have a plan for Active Transit/Integrated Mobility Plan in our last MPS, but now we have these plans, so we’re including them now. 

Dente: The regional plan is our strategic planning document, so everything we do has to integrate that. 

Outhit: The Moving Forward Together Plan, Rapid Transit Plan, Bedford Highway Plan, etc, are now considered part of the Integrated Mobility Plan. 

Dente: Yes.

Outhit: Transportation will be a larger focus in development planning? 

Dente: Yes. 

Morse: I share Outhit’s concerns about tying development plans to our transportation plans. I think we need to make sure we’re keeping density, affordability and things like integration with schools a part of the plans.

Cuttell: Pedestrian safety and traffic calming were huge things I heard when canvassing. I’m happy it was included. For suburban and rural transit corridors, can you talk about the rural transit corridors? I know we spoke about tying land use to transit, but community, environment and economy need to be tied to transit. Can we talk about the rural transit piece? 

Dave Rigge (Executive Director of Halifax Transit): Rural transit is predominantly park and ride to express busses and funding community transit partners (like Mus-go-rider). If there’s a desire to change policy around rural transit this would be the next step in that. 

Kent: About traffic calming, I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now. I realize some traffic calming has been put on hold, I’m hearing we don’t have the will or capacity to review some of these requests for traffic calming. The list and wait for traffic calming is long, I want to make sure I don’t miss my shot at making sure we can review or change the way we do traffic calming. Does this lock us into that? 

Davis: We have plans, but a lot of the traffic calming list is related to budgetary issues, i.e. not having enough money. 

CAO: Much of this is budgetary, but we have set out some unrealistic expectations about what we can achieve. We’re going to work with you to identify priority streets in your districts. And we’re going to come back with a plan that’s fundable, to get traffic calming into your districts. 

Kent: Thank you. I just wanted to make sure the plans worked together. 

Hendsbee: With regard to transit and corridors, the 2008 plan for metroX, we should have one on Highway 107. I would hope we fulfill some of the plan that was on the table in 2008. 

Lovelace: We’re only speaking about the roads we control. I’m trying to get the speed rate reduced on Peggy’s Cove Road, the province doesn’t measure pedestrian safety. We don’t have the ability to tell the province to make pedestrian safety a priority. I think we need to make sure we’re clear with people who’s responsible for their roads not being safe. 

Savage: Or cleared of snow. 

Lovelace: Exactly. 

Lines: On the priority of the environment. We’re working on an electrification strategy, the council will see it in Jan. 2021, which will include EV infrastructure as well as decarbonizing our busses. We heard support for HalifACT and the IMP. No language changes requested. 

Lovelace: Wendy can you speak to coastal communities? Sea level changes will impact a lot of districts.

Lines: Coastal infrastructure is included, but our expert is Shannon Miedema.

Shannon Miedema: We have a whole series of strategic initiatives in the HalifACT document, but we’re waiting for the province’s plan for funding. We are going to be adding more about coastal communities. 

Morse: How does food fit into this? 

Miedema: We support all of the ongoing initiatives about food security. There’s a lot of overlap between climate risk and food security, we’re making sure we’re prepared. 

Stoddard: How are we protecting our natural spaces and trails in this plan? 

Miedema: We work closely with parks and recreation because they can do things like acquire park land which is important for habitat protection, for example. We do this with any organization that has overlap. 

Savage: Lunch break? 

Cuttell: Can we also include something about access to green spaces in this? I mentioned it with Integrated Mobility, but maybe it belongs here. People need access to green spaces and we should be planning for creating green spaces as we grow and develop. I think including access is a key point. 

Savage: Lunch break until 1 o’clock.

*Lunch break*

Savage: We’re back, back to you Wendy. 

Lines: ‘Administrative Priorities’. This guides staff on how to work towards the goals given to them by council. Council isn’t being asked to approve them, but it’s important that council review them. The first is ‘Our People’ (long version in the presentation), with three outcomes: ‘Engaged and Skilled People’, ‘Diverse, Inclusive, and Equitable Environment’, and ‘Healthy and Safe Workplace’. Questions? 

Russell: On slide 15, ICT innovations will allow citizens to engage on their terms. I’ve been working in computers since before computers existed. It’s well-meaning, but it misses some people. By putting it in ICT’s hands it assumes everyone has access to technology, but that’s not true. It should be corporate and customer services if we’re meeting people on their terms, technology or not. 

Lines: It is the customer service team that manages this, so they’re in charge of this at the top. 

Savage: People are making fun of Russell in the chat…so we’ll move on to Hendsbee. 

Hendsbee: I hope we still utilize the community newspapers. We need to make sure we’re doing things the old fashioned way again. Not everyone might be computer literate. 

Cuttell: Does the collaboration include the ‘Exceptional Customer Service’ part as well? Can we streamline the process of people interacting with other agencies like Halifax Water or Nova Scotia Power? 

Lines: The Community Engagement Strategy does that. 

Lovelace: I have questions about pursuit of excellence, what methodology are we using to evaluate the implementation of this? 

Lines: We’ve stood up an organization, OPE, that evaluates this on lean Six Sigma criteria. We have many trained yellow and green belts. (Six Sigma is a set of techniques, tools and methodologies for process improvement, with various roles marked by different ‘belts’

Lovelace: I’m thinking specifically about outdated by-laws with this question.

Lines: The Strategic Priorities Plan was introduced last year for one year since the election was happening in October. We’d like to do this one for the four-year term, as a guiding document. It’s easier to integrate both short and long-term goals in a four-year plan. It can be a report and review annually for the four years instead of starting from scratch and doing this every year. It saves time and money. We want to replace the budget allotment tool with a budget survey, it gives better guiding information and has had 3000+ responses so far. And we’d like you to confirm the schedule. 

Savage: Are we deciding something here or are you coming back? 

CFO: This is a framework, we’d like approval to work within the framework. 

Mason: (Moves the motion for agenda item 4, to approve the development of the 2021-2025 plans, drop the budget allocator tool in favour of the budget survey, and approve the schedule)

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

*On to Regional Council*

Interviews:

N/A – COVID

Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Agenda for the meeting


A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.

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