Budget Committee, Jan. 12, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
Street safety is a priority for the new class of councillors, and they made that clear to city staff today.
As part of the city’s detailed budget planning, the Budget Committee met today to ensure city staff and councillors agreed on the strategic priorities for the city’s money, aka your taxes. The newly elected councillors stressed to staff and their peers that street safety was a huge priority.
The city’s plan for street safety broadly speaking involves engineering, like traffic calming, enforcement, policing, and education.
On the enforcement side, of the Halifax Regional Police’s 615 officers, there are approximately 10 that are dedicated to traffic enforcement. But Councillors Tony Mancini and Tim Outhit both warned that should council cut the police budget those 10 officers would be the first to get cut and street safety would decrease.
On the engineering side, Brad Anguish, the city’s Executive Director of Transportation and Public Works said that under the current administrative order, it would take 200 years and cost the city $140 million to implement traffic calming. Put another way, it would take 200 years and cost approximately 1.5 annual Halifax Regional Police budgets.
The rural councillors also stressed the importance of making sure the high-level planning documents for the city explicitly stated that the HRM’s plans were not entirely focused on what happens in the city’s centre and included rural concerns.
Councillor Austin also championed an amendment to remove the wiggle room in the city’s environmental plans so that city staff are no longer directed to ‘strive’ for zero emissions and just achieve it instead.
For a more comprehensive idea of what your councillors discussed and said on your behalf, keep reading below.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Russell: *Took over as Chair, since he’s Chair of the Budget Committee* It’s a public meeting, but no one signed up to speak. (Here’s how to sign up to speak). We’re talking about the Strategic Priorities Plan and Capital Budget Advance Tenders. Since the Strategic Plan has a report that’ll take us to lunch, should we switch the order around?
CAO: That’s fine from our side.
Russell: Capital Tenders first.
Hendsbee: (Reads the motion for agenda item 6 as written)
Russell: Comments from staff?
CAO: Nothing will get approved or rewarded until later, but this is signalling to the market what we’re going to be looking for, which allows us to get to tenders quicker if they’re approved.
Staff (Jane Fraser): It also allows companies to keep people on staff if they know work is coming.
Mason: Can you explain how advance tenders work with stuff that’s been approved from previous years? Just for the new members.
Fraser: These are the projects that either traditionally would go forward, like street repaving, or previously approved projects that are entering a new phase.
Cleary: There are busses in the tenders, but we’re also looking at getting electric busses or hydrogen ones, so is it possible to make sure we only buy the bare minimum diesel busses? Are we going to be as thrifty as possible in buying diesel busses?
Dave Reage, Halifax Transit: Yes.
Cleary: For the Moving Forward Together Plan, will this fulfill that plan?
Reage: No, there are two years left.
Cleary: Same number of busses next year?
Reage: Fewer busses.
Lovelace: A number of these items are getting full funding, but there’s not a lot of information beyond 100 per cent funding. I just want some more information and clarification about where this money is being spent. This is 71 per cent of our budget, staff knows how this money is being spent, but why can’t we get this information when making this decision?
Fraser: The book with all the information comes with our full budget presentation.
Lovelace: The West Bedford park and ride is in here, but there’s no information about it. What does it look like? There are no details on this.
Hendsbee: Some of these projects are long overdue. I hope we get more information soon. I’m prepared to move forward at this time, so we can take the best advantage of this construction season since COVID is a wildcard.
Smith: I don’t see the Halifax North Library in this list, is the work we identified still going to get done?
Fraser: The projects on this list depend on if they’re ready. The Halifax North Library might not be ready, but we also haven’t finished the work on this list.
Smith: So if it’s not on this list, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Purdy: When vehicles are sold does that money come back into the budget?
Fraser: It depends. Sometimes we donate things.
Reage: When busses go to scrap they’re only worth $5000. So we’ll forgo that value if someone else can use ‘em better.
Morse: The Parks and Recreation budget seems low? Does this mean we’re not putting money aside for buying parks?
Parks staff: Those are part of this process. Playgrounds, for example, require a lot of lead time to get built, so they’d be included here.
Austin: The advance tender list is all subject to budget approval?
Fraser: There is a bit of certainty when it comes to things like re-paving, I’d never put forward a budget without some re-paving in it.
Austin: For the new councillors, this isn’t a blank cheque, it’s still subject to the budget.
Russell: We’re approving it later today.
Austin: Subject to approval of the budget.
Kent: The new paving of subdivisions of provincial roads, is this paving gravel roads?
Staff (Brad Anguish): Yes.
Kent: I just wanted to make sure the priority is municipal roads. I had a situation last time on council where a guy bought busses for scrap and broke them down on a lot that didn’t allow it. I just want to make sure this wouldn’t happen again with our current policies.
Reage: I can’t comment on this at this time, offline is better.
Cuttell: If we approve this now, what are the implications for funding other projects down the road? The funding for road safety, it’s in several different buckets on this list. In the further breakdown of road safety, busses are funded fully, but sidewalk improvement is only at about 50 per cent funded. So how could we increase funding on road safety?
CAO: You’re in full control. There’s ample opportunity to change anything. These are the projects that are just ready to go but won’t be done if they aren’t approved by council.
Purdy: How do the percentages here get calculated?
CAO: We have a complicated budget process, we’re a billion dollar company (fun fact: municipalities are companies, councillors are board members, elected by us the ‘shareholders’). We break down the priorities, maintaining things vs buying shiny new things, and then allocate the percentages to reflect that, which is what you see here.
Fraser: It’s a process, we look at everything; what we have, what state it’s in, what we need, etc. Busses, for example, have a long lead time. So if we want to meet the Moving Forward Together targets we need to start the process of buying busses now.
Cleary: Since budget day is being pushed out a month, you should talk to the executive staff to get your questions answered. But we are trying to help you, rookies.
Deagle-Gammon: I understand the value of the advance tender list, is there a metric where we can measure the time of financial savings? Can you prove this process adds value to the budget process?
CAO: Some projects would be deferred out a year.
Fraser: I think Mr. Anguish can speak to this with regard to street works.
Anguish: Are there specific metrics? No, you’d just have to not do it to see if it’s worse. Bridges, for example, require the whole construction season so if we don’t start the tender process before the budget is formalized then the work would be delayed a year. It also helps line up the utilities. We don’t have a metric, but we pay a lot more later in the season when we try and squeeze in a project.
M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye
*Break for lunch*
Russell: And we’re back, everyone still here? Good, I’ll hand it over to the CAO.
CAO: The point of this strategic plan is to reflect council’s priorities for the next four years. It can be amended every year. There have been changes made already from the meeting in December. (This is high-level stuff, the full presentation is here. A lot of proposed plans and strategies the CAO is talking about will come as fully detailed plans to council in the coming years. There’s not much value for most people in this presentation, the important stuff for us plebs comes in the details of these strategies. This is, of course, on the assumption you’re happy with the priorities this council has defined.)
Russell: Thanks for this presentation, questions?
Kent: (Reads the motion for agenda item 5 as written) Some of these questions might be process questions, but this is making sure we’re on the same page when it comes to the high-level stuff? Safe streets, sense of safety in communities, without question the number one thing that comes to me as a councillor is street safety. I’m not sure we’re hitting the mark, yes we want to end fatalities, but we need to think about how people feel in their communities. In the police section, why was there nothing about police enforcement about traffic safety? Is there an understanding of the perspective of the people in their communities? Once we approve this, will we be able to add the local concerns later on in the process?
CAO: The goal is to reduce injuries and fatalities in road safety. This is high level, and the details will come later, but perhaps I can get Anguish to weigh in here?
Anguish: Each year we bring forward recommendations that include education, enforcement and engineering. One of the biggest changes is the awareness of the danger of speeding. The road safety plan in its first vision focused entirely on injuries and fatalities, but we’re adapting. On the engineering side of things, we need to completely change some streets, and we’re ramping that up. With regards to education, we haven’t changed much. In enforcement, both RCMP and HRP are at the table, and they give us data. I think we’re past the point where this is a broad-based issue, it would be helpful if councillors brought us specific streets that are an issue. Councillors are the best equipped to give us this information.
Chief Kinsella: We’re very engaged. We’re also bound by the rules of the province. We are regularly enforcing.
Russell: Is the RCMP here? No, okay.
Mancini: I’m happy to see us prioritizing social justice, even though it’s not our mandate. Safety of our streets needs to be a priority on its own. It’s a top priority for many of us. But if we are thinking about cutting the HRP’s budget, the first thing they’ll do is cut traffic enforcement. We have to be careful with the police budget if we cut it. The Transportation Safety Act, we were expecting it from the province in 2021, is there any word of this?
CAO: Conversations with the province are ongoing, and we do have something to share.
Anguish: We’re going to be circulating a memo about the next round of input to the province, due on Jan. 22, 2021. You’ll see what we’re sending next week. But there’s no timeline on when we’ll hear back or a guarantee on what we’ll get.
Cuttell: Road safety is a primary concern for me too. What we’re asking for is a new strategy, having a waitlist of 30 years for traffic calming just isn’t acceptable. Part of the approach needs to be understanding how pedestrians feel on our streets. A lot of pedestrians walk on our streets in fear. I think there’s untapped potential in our rural or suburban areas. I think we should look at establishing a new lens for economic development in these areas thanks to COVID. When it comes to public engagement, I don’t think the language presented today was strong enough to capture the direction we gave when it comes to getting people involved. I’m not sure if that’s a descriptor issue, or not. Climate resilience, we need to tie education into that as well.
Kelly Dente: When it comes to the rural plan, in implementation, we’ll be looking at everything. This is primarily to address things that have gone untouched for too long. I think the answers you’re looking for are in here, but not in the language of this presentation. There’s going to be a new public outreach plan coming in the coming months.
Reage: For rural transit, it’s express busses that are up and running. And where we don’t have transit, we fund companies (like Musgorider) to provide service. If you want something different, you should give us that guidance.
Deagle-Gammon: Going to a third party for rural transit is not adequate for our residents, it should be provided. In the presentation when it says Halifax, is it the HRM? Or just Halifax? I would support street safety as well. Is it time to review the RCMP agreement? How is the contract with RCMP evaluated? Should the agreement with the RCMP be its own thing?
CAO: It’s not part of the corporate strategy to deal with the RCMP, since it’s a provincial contract that we are the beneficiaries of. But we should include the RCMP in our strategy.
Lovelace: By now I think staff will be expecting that this council wants more, more detail, more engagement. We also want more community consultation. The lipstick on a pig approach for Hammonds Plains was great, we have a paved shoulder and dedicated active transit lane, but the problem hasn’t been solved. The congestion is still there. Where’s the solution for that? Where’s the functional plan for that, like happened for Bedford Highway? Can you speak to that Brad Anguish?
Anguish: No I can’t, it’s not my area! It’s planning and development, here’s Dente though!
Dente: Community connectors are part of that. There’s no quick fix for Hammonds Plains. We should talk about this, and Beaver Bank Road is a similar issue.
Lovelace: We’ve limited growth in some places and are encouraging it in other areas, and it feels like we’re working against ourselves on this.
Outhit: I’m very worried when we talk about cutting police budgets that the first thing they cut will be traffic monitoring. Enforcement is part of road safety. Regarding commercial taxes, we’re looking at a 1.9 per cent tax increase for commercial taxes, is it included in the budget? When it comes to the new Traffic Safety Act, I’d like an understanding of what we’re asking for from the province. The 300 streets that have been approved for street calming, it’s unacceptable that the wait is so long. We need to get serious and find the money for this. We can raise taxes or cut somewhere else, what can we do to speed this up? When we come to you with specific streets and it’s number 300 on the list, what’s the solution there?
Anguish: The AO for traffic calming isn’t working. We have a policy position, we need a priority position. There would be 2900 streets in the HRM that would qualify for calming. Lower priority streets are getting prioritized because it’s being treated like capital projects. And traffic is like water, if we put calming on one street, it makes it worse on other streets without calming. The limited resources aren’t getting to the highest priority streets. Giving us specific streets allows us to better highlight the problems, to better find a solution. The plan right now would take 200 years, and cost $140 million (1.5 annual Halifax Regional Police budgets).
Fraser: We have an outstanding motion from council to look at tax rates, we’re not recommending moving forward with any tax changes this fiscal year. We don’t have the tax system to do it. We also want to wait and see what the COVID impact is.
Morse: Can we get the growth assumptions the city is working with, and attach real targets to it?
CAO: That’s coming tomorrow, but yes.
Austin: Police reform, last council was on the receiving end of this after George Floyd’s murder. There has been nothing like it in my career as a politician. I think police reform needs to be a strategic priority, it needs to stand out as a priority. COVID will pass, that crisis will pass, but climate change will not pass. We have net-zero emissions in our plan, but it has a qualifier. It says we’ll try, the other stuff just says we’ll do it. Can we remove ‘strive to achieve’ and just make it ‘achieve’?
CAO: We’re not in control of this agenda, there are stakeholders that are part of this. We can do our part, like with our busses or buildings. But it’s ‘strive’ because we can’t control the private sector in the HRM.
Dente: It’s also to provide wiggle room for our buildings and stuff.
Austin: Can we get rid of ‘strive’ for the stuff we control then?
Purdy: No question, just comment. Pedestrian safety is a top priority for my constituents.
Russell: Same in my district.
Hendsbee: My communities also want safer roadways, even though most of the roads in my district are provincial.
Kent: Centre Plan and by-law implementation, what is plan B?
Dente: The rest of the regional centre.
Kent: All in the centre?
Kent: What is the regional centre in integrated mobility?
Dente: Inside the circumferential highway.
Kent: There is more to the HRM and the brand of Halifax, outside of the centre. I don’t see a lot of the non-centre communities in the strategic plan, what are we signalling to people who aren’t in the centre? Planning and development? Regional centre. Getting to the centre instead of commuting in their community. There’s no doubt it’s in there, but I want there to be language in here so people know they’re not being ignored.
CAO: I use HRM and municipality instead of Halifax for this reason. The growth patterns in the HRM are centred on the centre. That doesn’t mean we haven’t invested in other communities, but we can do a better job with that.
Russell: All of the photos in this thing are from the regional centre too, not the other communities.
Lovelace: That’s my point! Where’s the picture of Peggy’s Cove? We need to stop thinking about Halifax as Halifax, it’s more than the peninsula. Where are we at with the implementation of Vision Zero?
Anguish: The road safety framework was built around Vision Zero. It hadn’t been working and had been regressing. Setting goals that were unachievable hurt the program. So we made changes and have been working towards it pretty successfully.
Austin: I would like to put an amendment to remove the word ‘strive’ on the areas we can control. We can achieve net zero, we just might need to work harder in other areas. We’re a wealthy city in a rich country if we can’t achieve this we’re doomed.
Cuttell: Is there a report on what that will actually take? I’m just curious about the scope of this. How much emissions will that actually remove and at what cost?
CAO: All of the metrics are in HalifACT 2050.
Kelly: It’s a long and costly list that I don’t have at my fingertips, I’ll get back to you. That’s the intent of the word ‘strive’, but the amendment also makes sense.
Cuttell: I just want to know what’s the best way to spend the money to reduce the most emissions possible for the money available.
Dente: Buildings are one of the largest areas of emissions.
M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye
Russell: Kent you’re thinking about a motion?
Kent: I would like to amend to include language about suburban and rural development and investment, and the unique challenges about the suburban and rural city. I want to put in that a quarter of the people are in the rural part of the HRM, but it’s a drastically different experience for rural people than urban areas. And we’re a new council, so we get to debate this again. If there’s another opportunity to do this, I can come back later.
Sean Audas: Staff understands this, and have written it so that it covers the whole municipality. We’re taking in this feedback and our plan incorporates this.
Stoddard: Echoing the traffic concerns that others have brought up.
Cuttell: We need to recognize that the HRM is a massive municipality, it’s the size of PEI. There are very different communities and cultures throughout the HRM. This is something that is going to continue to come up again and again unless we find a better way to talk about it, respond to it, and manage it.
Hendsbee: The biggest issue I think, will be to educate the new councillors on how the plans we’ve developed are going to be implemented. I hope staff will help the new councillors understand why we’re moving in this direction and maybe see if we still want to be moving in the same direction as we were when these plans were first started. How does the budget plan fit into the strategic plans?
CAO: They’re taken into consideration as we put the budget together. We’re happy to answer any questions from councillors.
M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye
*On to regional council, but Committee Trawler is out*
Councillor Paul Russell, Chair (District 15)
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 Tim Outhit (District 16)
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:
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