Budget Committee, Feb. 3, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
N/A – Story will be included when the meeting is finished on Friday.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Russell: We have one public speaker! Florence Pine!
Pine: I’m addressing the recommended increase in property taxes, I’m a senior on a fixed income. Our income tax is going to go up this year due to CERB, cost of living is up, NSERB is useless, they just approve fee hikes. If the tax hike goes up, it will destroy what’s left of our economy (citation needed). Everyone’s had a tough time this year, when a business’ tax is increased it can’t afford to pay it and passes on the cost to the consumer. I like to go out and eat once and a while, but if taxes go up I’ll have to eat hot dogs in our backyard.
Russell: I appreciate the brevity and concern. Up next is the office of the CAO doing their budget presentation, can we get a motion?
Stoddard: (Reads the motion for agenda item 5 as written)
Dubé: Thank you (makes this presentation, this paraphrasing might not make sense without reading the supporting documents, it’s way too dense to capture like a normal meeting, this paraphrasing is just the highlights) what does a CAO do? Provides executive leadership and fiscal stewardship, I’m preparing the budget right now! Promote a positive corporate culture, leadership, and issue management. We have 34.3 employees, we’d like 14 more. Eight of the positions are transfers to our office from other business units. For example, we’d like to bring Diversity and Inclusion into the CAO’s office. These positions are included in my budget target, and not over it, but keeping them is up to you. We’d like the budget to go up, part of this is bringing back some pre-COVID spending, some of it is new hires for our social initiative, reducing homelessness, road to success, UN Women’s Safe Cities.
Paul Johnston, government relations and external affairs: Our deliverables for this year and our planned initiatives have been delayed by a year, due to COVID. We’ve been working on making regulations more modern and efficient, getting permit applications done faster, for example. We’re also working on inclusive communities: food security, housing and homelessness, and community togetherness. We need more focus on homelessness, we’re looking to add a person whose job is to work on homelessness every day. A report on homelessness is coming soon.
Tracy Jones-Grant, Diversity and Inclusion and ANSAIO: We’re still working on our priorities. We’re working on a diversity and inclusion framework. To address council’s priority on Anti-Black Racism we would require an additional $72,500. I have most of what I need already. We need to do community engagement, we can’t do this internally. To develop the strategy we will need outside help.
Dubé: The budget is about over and under the CFO’s budget allocations. We’re under, except for the $72,500 for Anti-Black Racism. So we’d like a motion from you to add this to the parking lot, so it can be funded.
Blackburn: Staffing Diversity and Inclusion, there’s no LGBTQ+ advisor, I thought we had one? That I’ve met before? Am I imagining that? The position that’s being requested, are they going to be working with the police as well?
Jones-Grant: You did meet a 2SLGBTQ advisor, but it was a term position. We recognize it’s a gap, but they started our work on that. The new position, right now, would be mostly planning, but working with police in the future. Our advisors work with police as required, but our Indigenous advisor does regularly.
Kent: Tracy, the advisor is attached to the police, they also work with RCMP?
Jones-Grant: Just to HRP, I’m on a board with RCMP, but no, just HRP.
CAO: The RCMP has its own diversity program and resources. They also have resources for African Nova Scotian Affairs, it might be able to be better coordinated, but we don’t have much “line of sight” on the RCMP.
Kent: When I look at the presentations today, where does street safety fit in Mr. Johnson?
Johnson: Street safety cuts across a lot of our business units.
Staff: There are several actions in the public safety strategy, we work with the IMP team closely.
Mason: Council support office, we were talking about reducing the newsletters to one or none, but we find it helpful to reach people who aren’t on social media, and good for them. Will it stay?
Staff: Newsletter cost has gone up, almost double for paper and postage. So we’re at one.
Mason: I’m going to make a motion to double the newsletter budget ($112,000) and add it to the parking lot. A critical piece of what we do is defending the decisions we make. So when people say “you’ve never talked to me about the Centre Plan” I can say “I’ve mailed it to your home, every six months, for the past eight years.” It’s mission-critical, I’d ask for your support in this.
Outhit: I’ll be supporting this. We’ll need to figure out the details, but I support this. If we’re adding a comms person, we’d better have work for them.
Kent: What’s the value we’re talking about? Doubling $56,000?
Russell: Yes. Vote!
Vote – Unanimous – Aye
Mason: (Makes the motion to fund the Anti-Black Racism Strategy)
Outhit: In that presentation, there was a $300,000 one time reserve, from the police tank refund I think, will we be looking at $372,000 next year?
CAO: The $300,000 might not have been the tank. We expect it to be an operating line next year, we’re just mitigating this year because of COVID. I don’t know what the number will be next year.
Deagle-Gammon: Outhit asked my question, but I’m concerned about the sustainability of the project. We need to sustain it.
Stoddard: What does $85,000 for staff include in the Diversity and Inclusion?
Russell: Is that for the main motion, or the $75,000?
Dubé: The temp position of $85,000 is in the overall budget that the $75,000 is for.
Jones-Grant: It’s the salary and benefits of the term position. I don’t have the resources in the office to focus on Anti-Black Racism Strategy.
Dubé: It’s a temp position to get us to a strategy and an action plan. We’re hoping to make these positions permanent in future years.
Cuttell: External partnerships, how does that work with your office?
Jones-Grant: We’re working with Halifax Partnership, and established a group of elders and advisors for the African Nova Scotian Economic Prosperity Action Plan. We do a lot of work with community partners. For budgeting, there’s a lot of grants and opportunities we apply for funding. But stable funding is key.
Cuttell: I was worried about duplicating efforts, thanks.
Smith: I support this. When we cancelled the tank we earmarked the money to be spent, did that money actually get spent? Or is this us doing it now?
CAO: The refund is funding this year, it’s earmarked, but unspent. It’s the $300,000.
Smith: The motion that “spent” the tank refund, can we get a quick memo explaining where it was sent?
Lovelace: This is great to see. How do we enhance the community development initiatives that come directly from the community? I’m concerned we don’t have the sustainability built-in, we have 400 years of racism here, we can’t deal with it in 12 months. What’s the plan B?
Jones-Grant: We work very closely with recreation and the work they do in developing community, they have strong on the ground knowledge. As for sustainability, as we continue to champion diversity and inclusion, we recognize we’re not going to address it in one year, so we’ll have to come back with a baseline budget.
Russell: I’m absolutely in support of this motion. Why this is separated out as an over instead of in the regular budget?
CAO: We have a target to hit. I also asked Tracy to take a hard look at the budget to come up with a reasonable number. And we had enough money for most of the work with the tank refund, but we couldn’t find the $72,500 elsewhere.
Deagle-Gammon: The Anti-Black Racism audit, is that a program audit? An external audit? Do you have a baseline? African Nova Scotian Integration Office (ANSIO), what is that? What does that 20k do?
Jones-Grant: ANSIO didn’t have a budget when we started. It works with communities to consult about projects. We also mount events, like supporting Black History Month, that’s what the $20,000 does. With regards to the audit, we don’t have a baseline as a city on how we deal with anti-Black racism. We’d need an external consultant because we don’t have the expertise. They’ve done work like this in Toronto. We do better as a municipality with data to support what we’re doing.
Deagle-Gammon: I was just worried $30,000 wasn’t enough.
Russell: Vote on Anti-Black Racism motion.
Vote – Aye – Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Mason, Smith, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Lovelace, Blackburn, Outhit – Abstain – Cleary (not present)
Deagle-Gammon: When the new positions are within targets, what does that mean? Were they vacancies that got filled? Are there collective agreements outstanding that will impact these numbers or is it built-in?
CAO: Budget targets are as much an art as they are a science. Fraser and her team establish targets, they have prolonged meetings with every business unit about their priorities and costs. And her office comes up with a number and we try and come in under that number. All of the positions here are non-bargaining positions (non-union).
Staff: Correct, all non-union.
Deagle-Gammon: Within the target, was the 1.9 per cent tax increase built into that?
Smith: Social policy coordinator position, would they also work with procurement and contracts? Street navigator position, is this related to the letter we got from the Halifax businesses asking for more money?
Johnson: The social policy coordinator, we haven’t formally described the position, but yes, they’d deal with every aspect, but the urgency of homelessness means we’re looking to get someone who can focus on that. And for your second question, yes.
Smith: Is this during budget or after budget?
Amy: A full update on the public safety strategy is coming. We’ve done knowledge exchanges, we’ve done training, like emergency management training. We’ve done a community garden in Uniacke Square.
Mayor: Every year we do this, but it never comes up in budget. We’re almost 90 per cent HR costs, but I’ve cut the mayor’s office budget by 50 per cent since becoming mayor. I think we can get below 1.9 per cent and I think we can get to zero per cent. But I think there are things we need to invest in. I don’t think we can spend all year talking about social issues and then turn our heads at budget time. You can’t take a knee in June, you can’t attend a march in October and then when the budget comes say ‘it’s not our responsibility.’ For people who say we’re creeping into areas that aren’t our responsibility, social inclusion is a priority for us. COVID has made things worse, but these issues existed before. I think we can show leadership on social issues while still being fiscally responsible.
Lovelace: When it comes to issues management, I’m struggling with redundancy in issues management. How can we create quality control in an equitable manner without issues management? GREA, how can we align our priorities as a municipality with the province? So many times as a councillor I’ve had to say ‘actually we don’t have the authority, it’s the province.’ How are we aligning with the province?
CAO: We do a lot of issues management here. How do we ensure there’s quality control in issues management. It’s an art more than a science and team sport. You’ll hear about issues long before we do. We try and give you the best support we can in a timeframe that’s reasonable. Some of the issues management has to be addressed through communications, issuing municipal statements for example. Our website needs improvement too.
Johnson: Council has a list of legislation they’ve requested from the province, but we can’t do without “permission” through a legislative change. We normally update after a sitting of the legislature, but they didn’t sit, so we asked for an update. And hopefully, there’ll be a new sitting with the new premier. So hopefully soon?
Lovelace: Some of the decisions the province has made, like putting a school in an industrial zone, are good to get updates on.
Austin: Blackburn off the top asked about a dedicated resource for LGBTQ? But we did?
Jones-Grant: Yes, we did, but don’t anymore.
Austin: That feels like a bit of a miss when considering the historic discrimination.
Jones-Grant: It’s a huge priority. There’s so much more that we need to do.
Austin: If council was interested, if we provided funds, would that be helpful or do you need to do more planning?
Jones-Grant: I’d never say no to more money, but we also need a plan.
CAO: We need a focused effort in that area, we’ll come back to you with a plan.
Austin: I’m not going to move something right now, but if it’s something that will be part of the budget, maybe can we get a briefing note?
CAO: If we get it done in time, we will.
Russell: Councillor support office, we talked about the newsletter, but the district capital funds, is that coming up at capital?
CAO: Yes, it’s part of capital.
Russell: This is one of the smallest departments, a 15.3 per cent increase in the CAO’s budget is a lot. I’m looking at the GREA ask, it’s $700,000 for three positions. Can you provide additional justification?
CAO: Specifically GREA?
Russell: Yes, it has three positions for $700,000.
Johnson: The total of just over $700,000 falls into three areas. Public safety, which includes one of the positions you mentioned. There’s ~$100,000 for the policing study which will lead to the revision of public safety strategy. There’s a $65,000 increase for the economic strategy. The new positions, and refunding the COVID cuts.
Russell: No more speakers, vote?
Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Russell: It’s lunch, come back at 1?
*Break for lunch*
Russell: Welcome back. We’ve done one of four business units on the schedule today.
Deagle-Gammon: (Reads motion for agenda item 6 as written)
Russell: Presentation by HR?
Caroline Blair-Smith, Executive Director Human Resources: (Makes this presentation) On to the numbers, it’s a simple and small budget. The compensation and benefits have increased a lot. Outside of HR, there used to be HR people all over the departments. They were doing good work, but they weren’t part of HR. So I’ve started to bring those positions into HR. It doesn’t change the work the employees in the other departments do, they just bring them into the city’s HR world. We also transferred some positions out, some safety positions went out. We’re looking to bring on two people to make our data better, and we want to include a new LR (Labour Relations) person since we have five negotiations ongoing, and that department is overcapacity. So that’s how we’re adding all these people, but only one on paper. There were a lot of areas in the budget where we realized we could do with a lot less money.
Savage: For clarification, on page 11, the 64 people would have been 57?
Blair-Smith: The 64 is the number of full-time people working in HR after all the transfers and changes. The only change that isn’t in there is the LR position.
Savage: The seven people being transferred were in someone else’s business unit? And approved by that business unit last budget?
Mancini: HR doesn’t have a lot of KPIs, where are we with grievances across business units? Are the numbers going up? Down? The same?
Blair-Smith: We’re holding, no huge increases.
Staff: We average 50-60 a year and haven’t gone up or down recently.
Mancini: Are there goals around grievances? Holding is better than an increase, but is there a strategy to go down?
Blair-Smith: No, we don’t want to set goals around grievances. Sometimes low grievances are indicative of people not passing on grievances to keep the numbers down (cobra effect).
Mancini: We have three collective agreements coming up?
Blair-Smith: We have police and crossing guards and we’re moving into transit, CUPE and fire.
Russell: Who will have access to the LMS?
Blair-Smith: It’s part of a larger project to roll it out for the city as a whole.
Russell: You have 4000 training program participants, do you have a target for that? How many employees does HRM have?
Blair-Smith: 36-3800 employees. We expected training to go down this year, but it didn’t. So we’ll have to set a huge target next year.
Russell: Number of contract negotiations ongoing, how many would normally be going on in an average year?
Blair-Smith: Depends on the term of the agreement, but there’s never usually a time when there isn’t at least one. We’re never not negotiating.
Deagle-Gammon: Five different unions, is there a lead table? Are they ever connected? i.e. if we agree to one rate it affects the other negotiations?
Blair-Smith: We don’t have partner agreements in the HRM, so no. But there is a general impact in the associated industries.
Deagle-Gammon: Would HRM ever be considered a lead table?
Vote – Aye – Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Mason, Smith, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Lovelace, Blackburn, Outhit – Abstain – Cleary (not present)
Russell: Legal and legislative services!
Cuttell: (Reads the motion for agenda item 7 as written)
Traves: (Makes this presentation) We review about 400 reports, process 685 FOIPOPs, process 1320 claims, and supported 250 meetings. There are only two individuals licensed to broadcast on Microsoft Teams which isn’t great, but they’ve been doing a great job. I’m not looking for any additional money beyond what’s been assigned to me by the CFO. Our increases are due to staffing, about 95 per cent of our budget is service delivery. Unless you’re going to need more capital projects or planning development, we’re in good shape. Like HR, we’re moving people around too and would like to hire three new positions mainly to cut down on (unpaid) overtime and speed up FOIPOP requests. Insurance is up due to climate change effects out west and major transit crashes in Ottawa (municipality, not the federal government). We’re saving money on insurance in spite of this because we have CCTV in transit, we have vehicle data, we have an in-house legal team, and an embedded and dedicated risk team. We may need $30,000 in overtime and might need outside legal costs, which we can never fully predict. Questions?
Austin: Two questions: meetings, there’s some work underway on virtual meetings, there’s never been a formal ask to council for resources to do virtual meetings, and you guys didn’t provide solutions. I assume we can buy more Teams licenses, why don’t we do that so it’s not resting on two people to do this.
Traves: The rules said we wouldn’t meet in person, and Teams was the corporate solution, and we didn’t realize the impact it was having on these two people. It’s somewhere between a clerk’s job and an IT job. And we kept running into issues trying to ramp it up. There was not a good understanding of the impact of bringing new councillors up to speed. It didn’t seem like a good idea to buy a bunch of Zoom licenses at the time, and Teams seemed like a good solution.
Austin: Is there money in your budget to make virtual meetings effective? We’re past the point of meetings not being public but getting a tape from clerks later if you ask being acceptable. If you need resources to make this work, now is the time to ask to make this work. I don’t want to learn in five months’ time that we should have done something now.
Traves: Within my budget, and if we move to something like Zoom, we should be okay. The question is, is there enough money in ICT.
Russell: Putting on my IT hat for a second, there were a number of concerns about Zoom, and we landed on a platform that worked. It does make sense to look at something else now though.
Smith: In the change aspect of your budget, it says new position and salary adjustments. Are these actually new positions or moved positions, and what are salary adjustments.
Traves: Salary adjustments are for cost of living and performance adjustments (raises). There are three planned new positions. Transferring a person from capital to IT.
Smith: You’re asking for additional money for virtual meetings?
Traves: No, we think we can do it in budget, it’s just budget pressure.
Smith: If you need to ask for more money for virtual meetings, please ask for more money for virtual meetings. The House of Commons uses Zoom and they’re operating fine.
Traves: In my understanding Teams is not the best solution for our broadcast requirements.
Lovelace: I thought FOIPOP spending may have gone up since more people had more time on their hands. When it comes to appropriate and accessible information, is it possible to make information more accessible so people don’t need to file as many FOIPOPs to get information? And redacting it appropriately?
Traves: A lot of FOIPOPs is personal information, so it can’t just be public. We recognized a need for an enterprise solution in 2015, and we are moving forward on it. Routine disclosure and open data help in many ways, especially with research requests. So we need to take a look at what is readily available.
Lovelace: Is the political contributions bylaw going to be reviewed/strengthened?
Traves: Not off the top of my head, but I assume there’ll be a report. If there isn’t, make a motion!
Staff: We’re looking at the election process from top to bottom, so yes it’s part of that. And there is a report coming.
Savage: Last year you had GREA in your shop, right? Freedom of information is free, or virtually free, but it costs money ($5 to file, plus processing fees). It’s the cost of a democratic society to get these requests handled. Operating costs for in-house lawyer?
Traves: We did benchmarking a few years ago. But it’s pretty cost-effective.
Savage: Last time I saw it was $131/hr.
Traves: It’s still less than $200/hr.
Savage: We have good lawyers in Halifax, I think it can be cost-effective to use them.
Traves: We’ve spent about $700,000 on outside lawyers.
Deagle-Gammon: Compensation and benefits are most of the budget, the increase is 1.9 overall, not individuals getting 1.9 per cent increases each?
Traves: Correct, and a lot of that increase is filling vacancies, it’s a year over year change.
Stoddard: It was hard running a campaign during COVID, but hats off for organizing the election. With the election staff reviewing the books, will councillors be asked for their input?
Clerk: We’ll look at the requirements, but yes, we’d talk to you.
Traves: Cheryl Murphy came out of retirement to run this election. There is some value in moving to all electronic/telephone. We suspect the increase in turnout is due to ease of voting. Nancy Dempsy is spectacular at running the FOIPOP office.
Austin: On the election piece, do we do a reserve transfer each year into the election fund?
Austin: There’s a lot to celebrate about the election, turnout, etc., but we can’t expect people to be miracle workers without resources. It worked fine if you were on the voter list, but we didn’t have the resources to help people get on the list. People couldn’t vote because we couldn’t add them to the registered voter list. I’m hoping in the review we all look at the failures.
Traves: Annually we put $750,000 into elections. Financially it wasn’t a challenge, but there are things we need to address. In hindsight, we could have done better.
Vote – Unanimous – Aye
Russell: Onto the AG!
Lovelace: (Reads the motion for agenda item 8 as written)
AG: Makes this presentation unlike the rest of the budget process my office goes right to the Committee of the Whole to bypass the CAO to increase transparency. Three reports came out, three of our planned four are ongoing. HRP’s IT audit will be released next week, but it was larger than anticipated. We can’t really do two IT audits in one year. My budget’s pretty small in the overall scheme of the budget, so it’s not super accurate. I’ll be back in April with a report for Audit and Finance. We’re looking for an IT expert, one-time cost of $71,100, for an audit on Halifax Water. I expect it to be more complex than the HRP one. Questions?
Russell: IT audits are different than other audits because tech moves faster and faster all the time. So we need someone working in the field to be up to date, no names in the chat, question?
Vote – Unanimous – Aye
Russell: We overlooked what was necessary for the IT audit, I need a motion for the contract for the IT expect to be added to the budget overage list.
Outhit: There’s always discussion of our influence over Halifax Water, complaints get taken to UERB, but you do have the authority to go audit them on our behalf?
Vote – Unanimous – Aye
*Meeting recessed until Friday!*
Councillor Paul Russell, Chair (District 15)
Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit (District 16)
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)
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:
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