Halifax City hall through the memorial arch
Budget Committee

Planning and development budget gets the nod

Councillors balk at spending enough to meet stated goals
 | April 7, 2021

Budget Committee, April 7, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

The Planning and Development budget breezed through today’s Budget Committee meeting. Executive Director of Planning and Development Kelly Denty’s additional budget requests were mostly for additional staff so her department could meet council’s priorities.

Throughout the budget process Councillor Waye Mason has repeatedly asked about the city’s capacity to complete the projects it starts as well as implementing their bold plans, like HalifACT. In today’s budget meeting the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Jaques Dubé presented council with an option to add roughly 15 additional staff, to the tune of $2.25 million dollars (2.1 per cent of HRM’s police spending) to make sure large infrastructure projects and climate change mitigation could actually happen in this city. Dubé said that even though the HRM is a large city, it’s not being funded like one. Councillor Austin supported this motion saying that if council wanted to keep self-applauding incremental changes they could, but if they were serious about their priorities, they need to fund them. 

Many councillors balked at the idea of allowing Dubé to spend this money without oversight into how he’s spending it, or on who. The motion was passed and will be going to the budget ‘parking lot,’ with Dubé to provide more details at the budget overs meeting on the 21st. Even if this motion or spending is not approved at the budget meeting Dubé can still hire people as required, this motion is more for transparency of that process rather than getting council’s approval.     

The budget overs for the Planning and Development department were all approved, so they’ll be on the budget overs list on the 21st. These requests were for 10 additional staff for her department (not the additional 15 from the CAO’s presentation) and $250,000 to fill a funding gap in her budget to create a heritage district.

Councillor Russell put forward a motion for E. coli testing at First Lake to better understand what the problem is with E. coli and how to fix it. That motion passed and is now on the budget over list. 

Councillor Cuttell tried to get funding for affordable housing included in the budget for areas not in the regional centre (which is not ‘downtown’ but the five districts ‘inside’ the circumferential highway, more or less) but was persuaded not to do that as part of the budget process. Instead she will be coming back to council with a request for a staff report to fund affordable housing outside of the regional centre. 

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Russell: Public participation for this meeting is up, and we have three speakers!

Shalom Mandaville: I’m speaking on behalf of Soil & Water Conservation Society of Metro Halifax (SWCSMH). Cities say water quality in lakes isn’t their issue, it’s provincial. But planning and development is approved by council. I’m excited that the planning budget has watershed management in it. Of a thousand lakes in this city 300 are, not polluted, but stressed. It’s not all HRM’s fault, happened before amalgamation. There should be a public survey up for six months where people are asked if they’re happy with their lakes. There was a meeting a while ago, but there was only half a dozen groups represented. The clerk gave you our submission, which is 1.5 pages, instead of the normal 20-30, because there’s links. One of those links is how to deal with phosphorus, which you should start doing. But it’s benchmarking the levels of phosphorus, and not allowing them to increase over 50 per cent. Once they hit that mark, either stop development, which is unlikely, or have aggressive runoff built into development. There are a lot of polluted lakes in the HRM, but I’m out of time. 

Nicholas Seminatore: I live on Claudia Crescent, and I’ve been here for 10 years. I own an aerospace engineering company. Sackville Heights Elementary School, I consulted with 60 people in the last 24 hours, we all agree that there’s no investment in infrastructure at Sackville High. New homes have gone up, but the investment isn’t reflected in the school. We rented a trailer to fix the potholes in the parking lot of Sackville High (it’s unbelievable how bad Sackville High’s parking lot has been for as long as I’ve lived here). There’s a lot of portables that were put into Sackville High which got rid of playground of equipment. A bunch of people have proposals, how do they get them to you in a way that you’ll take seriously? We don’t want to be wasting our time or your time. Also, my snow removal is bad, our crescent is priority 2, and when I call 311 they say it’s priority 2 by policy, but the grade is 11 degrees, which means it should be priority 1. How do we get our street re-evaluated? 

Russell: This is a presentation for information, but we have an opportunity to ask questions of clarity. 

Hendsbee: We should clarify that the school issue is a provincial issue so it’s for his MLA (former Councillor Steve Craig).

Seminatore: Can I ask a question? 

Russell: No, this is a presentation session.

Seminatore: Sorry, I saw the education line on the property tax bill so assumed…

Stephen Adams (former District 8 Councillor): I’m the executive director of UDINS. I’m requesting that six new positions be added to the planning and development staff. Planning staff is working hard to evaluate developments, but there are too many, so they’re falling behind. Sometimes planners get moved off files, and the new planners need to review the files and sometimes change things, which costs developers money. We’d like more staff for staff recommendations to happen faster. Staff could also be hired to look at only affordable housing applications. Add some punishments if developers game the affordable housing fast track though, and they won’t do it again. 

Russell: We’ll take that into consideration, on to the presentation from planning and development

Kelly Denty: Here’s what we do, with as little jargon as possible in a fun graphic:

Denty: We had successes in the last year, council passed HalifACT, we did virtual public engagement which was new, we converted some streets due to the pandemic. We turned our application process into an online one for the first time in 60 years. We now also do permitting, planning and licensing online as well. What we plan to do this year is the following:

Denty: (Most of these bullets are reports or legislation coming to council later this year for approval and implementation.) Here’s the average wait for permitting: 

Denty: And here’s a heatmap of permits in the past 10 years of development:

Denty: Here’s how much we’re building and what we’re building:

Denty: Now let’s talk about budget numbers. We’re hiring 13 new people. 2 people working on affordable housing, we made some term positions permanent, we have six people for HalifACT implementation, and one more person in transportation planning. And some numbers:

Denty: Here’s our budget over list!

Denty: They’re mostly staff positions, which are important to increase our capacity. We have some pressures. We’re growing from a medium city to a large city. Our climate change initiatives will be expensive but tend to pay for themselves. 

Russell: That was a huge amount of information, I appreciate the level of detail and the speed at which you delivered it. 

Kent: *Reads the motion for agenda item 5 as written* I came into this meeting thinking I had a lot of issues with planning, but am now more enthused and hopeful. I have six areas I’m going to ask questions about. My questions are about accountability and oversight for developers. Lake health, I’m excited for the water quality staff report. The suburban and rural plans in the regional planning framework, I’m excited to hear what you have to say. I’m excited for your staff editions. I have some concerns around the equity for the affordable housing grants and projects outside of the centre plan. How much time do I have for my questions (five minutes!)?

Russell: You have a minute and a half left.   

Kent: Who holds developers accountable when things aren’t going right? When there’s a change or a cease and desist, is it permits? Standards? In this budget are we beefing up oversight and accountability on projects that might need it?

Denty: I’m responsible, ultimately. But it’s the building official and engineering staff. Each one’s unique, we are increasing staffing, which means we have more people who can do inspections. I’m not sure we’re ever going to have enough staff to be proactive but we’ll be better able to be reactive. The permitting staff would help with that. 

Austin: I’m excited to see the Centre Plan be finished this year and as soon as it’s done, we have to start the suburban right away. I’m excited to see the Lake Banook recommendations coming to fruition, netting for the circumferential to get the pigeons out of there, for example. Climate change, we’ve taken our eye off the ball on climate change due to COVID, but climate change hasn’t gone away at all. The scale of the issue is massive and daunting. I asked what you need to implement our climate change plans, but your presentation only had six people hired. What are we doing? 

Denty: We’re still building that resource plan, we didn’t have it in time for this budget, so we need more people to make it work. Our COVID budget meant we didn’t have enough people on it. The additional staff in this budget gets us the people we need, when you paint a room it takes a long time to do the cutting in and the taping, right now we’re still taping, before we start rolling. We’re going to come back to you with additional resourcing, if we need it, later this year. We’re on it but it doesn’t look like it yet. 

Austin: One final sentence, we have to be prepared to treat climate change like the emergency it is, I don’t want to wait until 2022, if we need more people, we need to hire them this year. 

Blackburn: What he said. Couple of quick questions, the addition of staff in your overs, what’s the domino effect? Are we getting rid of a logjam at planning and development by moving it to legal? The trailer parks, land lease communities, I’m glad to see the changes are coming, if you need extra help in that working group, I’m in. The floodplain report, when is that coming? Walter Regan will be texting me in about five minutes. What’s the scope of it? 

Denty: The staff overs are mainly entry level, they soak up capacity, so it shouldn’t create logjams downstream. We have 28 mobile home parks, we need to pay attention to them and we are. The floodplain report is delayed a bit, the scope of the study would be for the entire region I think, Peter Duncan has a better answer. 

Peter Duncan: It mainly focuses on infrastructure solutions in Sackville, but also the Shubenacadie River study encompasses most of the HRM. 

Outhit: There’s no question that we have to add people because things are a bit cyclical, we expect immigration to go back up, but have you looked at term positions or outsourcing to deal with the backlog instead of outright hiring in case the boom doesn’t last? Construction noise bylaw, where are we with that? We need to look at how late it goes into the night, on Sundays, etc. Where is the latest thinking on public meetings when we know the development is controversial? Virtual ones could take a long time. 

Denty: We looked at term positions and outsourcing but the solution is permanent staff, we need people who care and fully understand the bylaws. We look to outsource what we can but not regulatory work. Construction noise bylaw is 4-6 weeks away. Regional plan review is sticking to the two year timeframe. Public meetings, we’re bound by public health guidelines. For the big ones, like backyard suites, it went rather smoothly, but until public health allows us to gather, we won’t. 

Outhit: Some gathering is permitted, so please keep that in mind. 

Mason: It’s great that we had 4000 units permitted this year but our population grew by 10,000. What can we do to expedite things that are already essentially approved? We’ve always run a lean system and we can’t expect it to just ramp up. We talked about making fees equal to the cost of the service provided but ended up not doing it. Developers said they’d be for it, if the service was better. The $250,000 for heritage district, is that the only funding?    

Denty: For speeding up approvals we’re aligned in that, we can’t really speed up the approval process but we can speed up the as of right approvals, with extra staff. If we want more affordable housing we need to reduce fees, not increase fees. We need to incentivize it (if we’re relying on private industry, instead of government building them). And the heritage district over is to fill a gap I couldn’t meet in our budget.    

Purdy: The equity piece for the new affordable housing piece, how far away are we from seeing this grant given to developments outside the centre? The construction noise bylaw, who’s responsible for enforcement? The high compliance rate doesn’t mesh with the complaints I’ve received. 

Denty: Right now the grant program is confined to the centre, just to get it going. We’re looking to get that expanded. As far as noise bylaw, that’s usually police. During the day if it’s construction we have bylaw staff, otherwise it’s police. 

Savage: There’s been at least three budgets where we asked if you needed more people and we were told no. But I’m all for adding people to your department. We’ve had growth, which is great, and we’re hitting the numbers we’re expecting. Do we know that construction permits are turning into units? 

Denty: There’s some discrepancy, approvals occur on paper, but everything that gets approved doesn’t get constructed. We don’t track vacancy in units but based on the vacancy rate we think the units getting built are being occupied. 

Savage: We were expecting 1200 units per year in the city? 

Denty: Yes.

Savage: And we’re hitting 4000, which is good. We have a rural planning office now, which is good. 

Mancini: The positions you’re asking for, if approved how quick until they’re up and running? The compliance officers you’re asking for, are they the same ones we approved yesterday? The large developments that are being planned and developed are complete communities: transit, traffic calming, snow storage, etc., being included in the process? 

Denty: We’d hire them today if we could but I think it would take about three months to hire them and they’d start taking work almost immediately. The compliance officers are different, but you haven’t seen the report yet. 

Mancini: Do compliance officers share many hats? 

Denty: Yes, we’re trying to create a general level of knowledge, with specialties. The large developments, like Port Wallace, we’re designing it as much as we can.   

Cuttell: The staff for the regional plan review, specifically suburban and rural. When addressing climate change, our land use is some of the biggest impact we can have on climate change. Investing in retrofits is probably less efficient than the suburban and rural land use planning. Pushing forward with as of right developments in old municipal planning strategies might not be the best thing for the city. The regional plan review is so critical. There’s a delicate balance to provide more housing and sustainable housing. Which new staff will be assigned to the regional plan review? What other watershed studies are happening right now? How do they fit into our plans? The affordable housing, have we identified in our surplus land, land that’s suitable for affordable housing?      

Denty: Regional plan review, we think we have enough people in house to do it. We may need additional resources but we’d come back to you for that. Watershed planning is foundational for new community planning. As of right, building to old plans isn’t always the best, but it’s stuff we’re able to do now. People have made financial decisions based on the old plans, so we have to let them move forward. As surplus lands come to market we look at them to see if we can build affordable housing and then bring it to you. 

Smith: It might be good to do an affordable housing 101 for new councillors, how the province gave us the legislative changes and grants, etc. I’m excited about the food action plan, the work is starting soon, but do you know when it’ll be complete? Any update on inclusionary zoning? Now that we have Centre Plan Package A in effect, we’re seeing more appeals come in, are you able to deal with that? The development officers and hiring more, are you looking at people who have experience outside of planning, like architects, who could look at a plan in a more holistic way?

Denty: Affordable housing, we’re only allowed to use density bonusing in the centre but we’ve asked to be allowed to do that throughout the HRM, it’s with the province. The food action plan would come back to council in the fall. Inclusionary zoning, we’re talking to the province but I can’t be definitive with a timeframe. Appeals, we’re looking at streamlining the process so that we don’t have to respond to appeals that don’t fit the appeals process. We’re always looking to expand expertise in the development officer role but their job is mainly looking at bylaws. 

Hendsbee: Rural land use planning, how many applications are there, what issues are you having with them, and where are they happening? When we go forward with the regional plan review, can we get more information on timelines? There’s a lot of weird rules about recreational areas. Is there any traction with the province on houseboats? The sewer needs to be expanded on Highway 7/Main Street beyond Montague to at least Cherry Brook because it hinders development. I think we need to re-evaluate lot sizes, it should be based on science, like soil conditions and what septic systems can fit. Can’t wait for the chicken report to come back. Here’s a picture of where the Ross Road realignment is happening:

Hendsbee: Everyone’s excited about it, when is it happening? 

Denty: Rural team update on active files, I can get that to you, we can have a meeting. But it’s a level of detail I don’t have access to. Regional plan review, thank you for the feedback. Lot sizes are provincial. Ross Road realignment is a conversation for our real estate people. 

Hendsbee: Anything on houseboats? 

Denty: Not at this time.   

Russell: We’ve had a situation in Lower Sackville, this is First Lake:

Russell: It used to have lifeguards and now doesn’t have lifeguards because of E. coli. The E. coli meant lifeguards were just telling people to not swim. There was testing, saying E. coli was happening and signs went up saying don’t swim. Then they stopped testing and just put a sign up saying don’t swim. In 1990 Shalom Mandaville was interviewed about the problem:

Russell: We need to do testing to figure out what is causing the problem, not just that there is a problem. We should test the following locations:

Russell: Sack-a-wa routinely does their own testing and it always comes back clean. So here’s my motion:

Cleary: My first question, since this isn’t staff generated, where do the numbers come from? This is normally done via staff report. Can staff talk to this? Is it feasible for this year? I’m not sure if a 1990 newspaper article is relevant to today’s discussion.  

Dubé: This is an appropriate motion that puts it in the ‘parking lot’, and then we’ll get a briefing note saying whether or not they can do it. 

Denty: In terms of the dollar value, it’s a rough ballpark we came up with, with the councillor. We think we could have staff manage it, but a briefing note would flesh that out. 

Austin: Having been in this exact situation with Lakes Banook and Mic Mac, the study we did cost around $150,000, it might be cheaper since First Lake is cheaper. The challenge is if we can get the work and testing done in the summer when the lake is seeing its most stress, so I’d like that to be included in the briefing note.  

Mancini: The challenge we have in the municipality is that we identify the issue and then what? I’m not expecting an answer to that but we identify where the problem is and then what do we do? 

Russell: Cleary, the finances were based on Austin’s report for Banook and Mic Mac. They budgeted $150,000 but the actual cost was less than $100,000. I’ve been working with Friends of First Lake and they’re doing testing, so we’d hopefully be able to coordinate testing. What happens after we get the testing? Hopefully something. People have suggested solutions in the past but I don’t want to have that type of expense before we know what we’re trying to fix.  

M/S/CVoteAye – Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Mason, Smith, Cleary, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Blackburn, Russell, Outhit, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Savage – Abstain – Lovelace (absent

*Break for lunch

Deagle-Gammon: (May have missed some off the hop) We only have 8 applications in my district, one of which is a mobile home park, with the bylaw review, will their development be grandfathered into the old regs or will the new rules apply to them? The chicken report, it’s consumed my first three months, people don’t understand how you can have chickens downtown but not out here. There needs to be an easy way to check. What’s the training and credentials for compliance officers when it comes to dogs? 

Denty: The mobile home development would be case dependent but usually new rules don’t apply to things already approved. But I’ll have to get back to you on this case specifically. Dog compliance has training and criteria, we could make the requirements public. 

Kent: Lake health and water quality, will there be some around Morris/Russel Lake? Eisnor for strategic corridor, does it continue to Cole Harbour? This budget? Next? Chickens are important to me. The Mount Hope and Suburban/Rural planning, I’m wondering about timelines. There are some parcels in district 3 that would be good for a Mount Hope connector road. Page 15 of the report, regional plan target, you’re talking about publishing the themes and directions report in the spring, and then bringing a draft back in the fall. Is the summer the only window for feedback on the rural planning strategy? 

Denty: Morris and Russell Lakes should be in there but I haven’t memorized all the lakes. The Eisnor bit, I’ll get staff to speak to. The timeline about themes and directions, we’ll come to you to make sure we have them right, come to you to confirm, and then put meat on the bones, and bring it back to you in the fall and then do engagement.  

Kent: Eisnor to Gaston? 

Duncan: What’s on the slide for Eisnor is the work that’s planned to be completed this year, the full plan is seven years long but goes almost the full length of Portland Street. 

Mason: I don’t have any further questions, but I’m going to test council on two motions. The heritage one could be a one-shot, so I want to add it and see if we can use the gas tax or something. *Adds the motion and immediately calls the vote*

M/S/CVoteAye – Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Mason, Smith, Cleary, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Blackburn, Russell, Outhit, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Savage – Abstain – Lovelace (absent

Russell: I’m going to Morse.

Mason: Voting doesn’t count towards my time.

Russell: Okay, keep going.

Mason: I’d like to move all the staffing positions to the ‘parking lot’. The clerk is taking some time to combine them, since I’ve combined them. But my argument here is that as we grow we need more staff and capacity, and we’ll hear about that at the second presentation. 

Cleary: Compliance officer 1, can they also give out parking tickets? Can they visit a construction site, see an unsightly premise, and give a parking ticket? 

Denty: Yes, it’s an all-encompassing job. 

Cleary: As we beef up the compliance officer staff, I was just wondering if they could be re-tasked. I’m in favour of all of this. 

Kent: Just for clarification, is Waye’s motion over and above what’s listed in the report? 

Denty: The staffing increase of $1.8 million is in our main budget. Mason’s motion is all of our overs in one motion. 

Kent: Mason is that you just making an arbitrary decision? 

Mason: It’s on the overs slide.

Outhit: Every year we add them to the ‘parking lot’, this year we’re saying a briefing note. We know we’re going to get a second presentation on how these people will be used, do we need a briefing note on this? 

Jane Fraser: The process is, if you want more information you can get a briefing note. For ones that are ongoing, there’s a bit more due diligence, and it’d be closer to a supplementary report. If you’re happy with the information provided by Denty then you don’t need a briefing note.   

John Traves: Historically items in the budget adjustment list had a note about implications, we formalized it a bit more this year. 

M/S/CVoteAye – Mancini, Mason, Smith, Cleary, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Blackburn, Russell, Outhit, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Purdy, Austin, Savage – Abstain – Lovelace (absent

Morse: I’m happy to see the water quality added. Affordable housing and climate, what will the new planner positions for affordable housing allow you to do that you haven’t been able to do so far? How will you determine who qualifies for affordable housing? How will you get over the limitations for affordable housing outside of downtown? How will the climate goals be reflected in the regional plan? Is it possible to revisit the growth plan communities identified? 

Denty: We’ve been clearing barriers for affordable housing, like secondary suites and tax incentives. With the new grant programs that are coming out, we’ll also have to be helping people through the process. As well as buying land for affordable housing, and developing a better affordable housing plan. I don’t have a nuts and bolts plan at this point, but there’s a lot that needs to be done, they’d do that type of work. We’re looking at expanding the affordable housing to more than just the regional centre. The green network plan isn’t directly tied to the regional planning. It’s something that influences decision making. The growth plan areas also have wiggle room, to better reflect where growth is actually happening. 

Cuttell: The affordable housing, one of my big concerns is the affordable housing grant. My big concern is its limitations to the regional centre. Is there a way to expand that to areas like Spryfield? Can we find a way of expanding that? The water monitoring, when we look at a new site watershed management is one of the first things we do, but the older developments might need more work done. Can you speak a bit about the budget for food security, it talks about an action plan or framework, but are there specific plans coming this year? 

Denty: The money has to be granted in the area where it was collected, which is the regional centre, right now. More to come on that though. The water quality monitoring will give us information on what the problem is, but we can’t necessarily identify where the problem is coming from. Food security report was supposed to make it to you this week, but we didn’t quite make it. That should be on your next agenda. 

Austin: Affordable housing issues aren’t limited to the centre, and it’s not good that we have a plan that only applies to the centre. But the money coming for these grants comes from projects developed in the centre. We don’t want the regional centre to get gentrified too hard, which is a risk, if affordable housing money could be moved around. There might be room to move on this if we, the municipality, kick more money into the program. It gets labelled as our program but it’s essentially a developer tax. 

Kent: Affordable housing, there’s conversations about density bonusing and grants but I’ve just received a letter from Minister Porter in May 2020, he’s saying this allowed for density bonusing across all of the HRM. Did we receive the staff report? Can I have another look at the report we’ve received on this? Regardless of the past, we’re here today and there are projects that need support. How many projects of the 3440 units were affordable? 

Denty: I’d have to get back to you. I may have to eat my words on the provincial legislation. 

Kent: Wouldn’t be the first time a provincial minister got something wrong. People are under the impression that we could do more and we’re not. 

Outhit: I think we’ll see some progress with inclusionary zoning when the province gets to it. We won’t need fancy programs, it’ll just be the cost of doing business includes affordable housing. 

Cleary: To Kent’s question and Denty’s answer, in 2018 the province repealed a part of the HRM Charter that said we could only do bonuses in the centre. But we need a framework and we only have a framework in the centre. In order for the density bonus to be applicable in any other region, it needs to be in the MPS and land use bylaw. We have the authority but it was only two and half years ago and staff hadn’t been able to get to those changes quick enough. They’ve done stuff like backyard streets. We have a lot of land use bylaws and MPS-es that we need to change. Could you bring stuff in quicker? Could the regional plan review be when these changes happen? 

Denty: The money needs to be spent where it’s collected. We can look at putting it in the regional plan review but the inclusionary zoning would be the easiest. 

Mason: Moving to a plan that gets money outside of the regional centre is a pretty big change and if done wrong could encourage bad behaviour. We don’t want people to throw more money for more height. We limited it to the regional centre because if most of the development happens in one place (which it is) it would mean more gentrification. My concern would be that regional centre is more expensive, so it’s going to cost more to build affordable in the regional center, so if money goes out of the centre it’s harder to do affordable housing in it. 

Cuttell: I don’t think anyone has an issue with the current plan, we understand and support it, we’re saying there’s a need outside of the centre as well. We’re just looking for way to get money to places where it’s needed and where we could get more bang for our buck. It’s also not a lot of money if this is really one of our priorities. I’m just not sure what concrete things will happen this fiscal year.

Denty: I don’t have a great answer, just staff need to come up with a new plan. We create the plan and work to the plan. Right now we need to create the plan. 

M/S/CVoteAye – Mason, Smith, Cleary, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Blackburn, Russell, Outhit, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Savage – Abstain – Lovelace (absent

Russell: On to the resource funding plan, presentation first, motion first? 

Dubé: Up to you.

Russell: Presentation.

Dubé: What I want to do is talk about the staffing required for our growth pressures. I had to wait to see the presentations from all the business units, to get a better idea of what we need to do and can do. All of the big projects we want to do come at a cost, to the HRM itself and to our staff. This is a plan, I don’t have all the answered today, but we need to keep pace with our growth. Do we have enough staff? The answer is no. We have 110 approved strategies that require staff. Although Denty’s additional staff don’t create downstream logjams, some do. And for those we need more staff. Some of these plans are very ambitious. The pandemic hasn’t slowed us down, we’re still growing like crazy. With that growth comes expectations of services. There are staff that get up every day and focus on social issues. The environment is a priority but responding to climate change is currently beyond our capabilities to respond to. Responding to social issues and the climate are taking staff away from other issues. HRM is a billion dollar company but we’re resourced like a mid-sized city. (Fun fact, our municipal elections are more or less shareholders (us) voting for board members (councillors) of a corporate board.) Here’s every key initiative underway:

Dubé: We have 220 reports being worked on at the moment. Here’s how we’re being impacted and the benefits of spending the extra money: 

Dubé: The new positions would be ongoing expenses, so they’d need ongoing revenue. We recommend, should you approve it, it’d be funded by the deed transfer tax, like this:

Dubé: I’m coming to you in the interest of transparency instead of hiring people piecemeal throughout the year, so here’s my recommendation:

Dubé: We’ll be coming back to you with more details as we hire people to do specific things, if approved, questions? 

Savage: *Reads the motion for agenda item 6 as written* This is a new thing. I’m not part of this recommendation, I got this when you did. I’m of two minds on this. We are a growing municipality and need to be able to adjust mid-year to things. We need that kind of nimbleness. But on the other hand, this is a rigorous budget planning process, with every department debating in the public. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a carte blanche $2.25 million, and it’s a carry forward, so it’ll be on next year’s budget. The people who pay the bills also require the service. I’m not opposed to this but I’m also not prepared to abdicate my responsibility to make sure the stuff we’re working on is carried out (which Dubé’s presentation lays out how we can’t meet those responsibilities with current staffing). If no one else has an amendment, I’ll be adding a reporting amendment, if no one else has any. I see the need for this but we can’t just let go of our responsibilities here. 

Austin: I share part of the Mayor’s concerns. If we’re serious about plans we need to put the resources in place to carry them out. It’s just not realistic for us to carry out our plans at current resourcing. If we want to carry on our self-applauding incremental way we can but if we’re serious about our plans we need to fund them. But I’m also concerned about the open-ended-ness of this. If we want to reduce the amount we should do it at the budget adjustment phase. 

Mason: If this is going to the ‘parking lot’ process, if we want more details, this is the time to ask for them. But I love this, this is exactly what I’ve been asking for in every meeting. We have a lot of big projects costing a lot of money coming up and if we don’t have money to do a lot them at the same time. If we’re going to keep growing at this rate we need these big projects now. And the big capital projects can be debt right now because interest rates are low. We can’t keep asking staff to do these big projects off the sides of their desks. How’d you get this number though? 

Dubé: It’s based on 15 professional staff and the equipment they need. 

Outhit: My concerns around our growth is that we don’t have the staff to grow or keep up with the services we currently provide, like police and fire (police budget is too high Tim). If this were a business right now we’d be looking at hiring people. Our growth could slow down, I think it’s unlikely, but we would have said the same about a pandemic and rescission. If this was a business we’d be looking for a plan B, or an offramp (this isn’t a business, it’s a government, worth noting), but what are we going to do if some of the assumptions we’re making don’t pan out? Could these be phased? 

Dubé: Great points, one of the advantages we have at the moment is that federal and provincial money is available. The Windsor Street exchange money, for example, we’re contractually obligated to spend now. We’re waiting for some funding for other projects. The economics say we should be planning for $80 million in spending instead of $60 million from the deed transfer tax, but we’re under promising here. We also have a very strong reserve position. We won’t be hiring staff all at once, and if things start to slide we also have attrition. There are always people retiring or leaving, I’m confident we can manage the workforce. 

Kent: Is there any chance that some of the stuff in the ‘parking lot’ would be captured in this, or is this over and above again? 

Dubé: Over and above. Many of the asks of business units don’t calculate how it impacts other business units, that’s my job. When we come back to you in the ‘parking lot’ discussion, we’ll have a source of funding for everything. There’s lots of room for discussion in the budget adjustment meeting. 

Kent: So, the ‘parking lot’ is big but there is money that can go to it. So are we going to be able to be within our projected envelope from the start of budget discussions? 

Dube: Yes.

Hendsbee: I understand the need for this. We need shovel ready projects for when funding is announced. I think this is necessary to move forward. But I’m also concerned about people holding the line on taxes. I’m worried that we’re going to use our golden egg of the deed transfer tax to make a scramble? I’m worried that this is going to become structural instead of term positions or project specific positions. I hope it gives us flexibility but I’m worried about when the provincial and federal funding dries up? When it dries up will they be downloading costs to the municipality? (Almost definitely.

Dubé: What we’re talking about here are positions that are required for operational reasons right now. Growth is not anticipated to slow down, regardless of whether or not the province and feds give us money, we don’t have enough people to do what we need to do right now.  

Cleary: I’m a bit leery of this one. I like approving the plans at every step of the way. Even for the federal housing money, we had a month to make a project “shovel ready.” We can’t hire someone in a month. The CanMac analysis is great, the deed transfer tax is great, I’m in favour of using surpluses going to mid-year hiring. The briefing note that will come with this, it will have a source of funds and do you know who you need to hire? If so, could you rejig the budgets of the departments we already approved? I can’t support this if I don’t know who’s going to be hired. We approve the envelope, but I want to know what’s in the envelope.

Dubé: I’d love to tell you I can give you all the details on the who. This proposal gives me the flexibility to see who we need, to come back to you with who we want to hire. I’ll do my best to give you all the information you want but I can’t guarantee you’ll be satisfied with what I have. 

Deagle-Gammon:  $2.25 million ongoing, that’s a lot. You say we’re mid-sized but under resourced, are there cities we can get comparisons to? The reserves we’ve been making, how does this work into that? What’s the overall growth in the HRM staff already approved?

Dubé: Comparing to other municipalities, we’re pretty unique. We’re the largest municipality geographically, we’re the size of PEI. When you look at structures it depends on the level of service, what the priorities are, and what they’re responsible for. Cities aren’t required to do the same thing, Ottawa for example, is doing public health, we don’t have to do that. On strategic capital and capital reserve, it’s designed to pay debt, it’s not a source of funding for this. This is more suitably funded by the deed transfer tax revenue, and in a pinch out of an operating reserve. 

Cuttell: The budget process, are we able to add items at the ‘parking lot’ meeting? 

Russell: No.

Dubé: You can add things to the ‘parking lot’ at any time but we need the budget to be done by May. So by doing due diligence, i.e. briefing notes, we can’t really add things and hit that deadline. If you have something, now is the time. 

Cuttell: We keep getting new information about our fiscal position, I’ll let the mayor ask his question, but I may be back with a motion for the ‘parking lot’. 

Dubé: We’re going to have a different fiscal framework presentation for you at the last meeting because we have more information about surplus and deed transfer tax, etc. 

Traves: The budget is the committee’s until it’s finalized and it’s a snapshot in time, it won’t be the same the day before or the day after. So if you want a ‘parking lot’ item, now is the time. 

Russell: I’m in support of this idea, but have some concerns. This amount of funding is 0.2 per cent of our budget and allows for some flexibility. I’d like to see these new hires get transferred to the business unit. There’s no structure around this ask, it’s just an ask for the money. I’m of two minds on this one. I’d like a briefing note with some rules around the spending for the ‘parking lot’. Or ask for a more formalized report, which would take longer. I’d like to make a motion to amend this motion and change the wording to include more details in the briefing note.    

*Break for 15 mins*

Deagle-Gammon: The amended motion is in the chat.

Savage: Maybe amend the amendment? I wanted to add quarterly reporting to this motion. Is it friendly? 

Russell: Yes. 

M/S/CVoteAye – Smith, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Lovelace, Blackburn, Russell, Outhit, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Mason, Savage – Nay – Cleary – Vote to amend the motion passes

Russell: The list of speakers is clear, except the Mayor. 

Savage: I was going to make a motion and now I don’t need to. I’m not going to support the $2.25 million because that’s a full year amount and we’re not in a full year (it’s ongoing spending though).  

Cuttell: I’d like to make a motion to add something to the ‘parking lot’.  

Russell: We have to vote on the main motion first. 

M/S/CVoteAye – Cleary, Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard, Lovelace, Blackburn, Russell, Outhit, Deagle-Gammon, Hendsbee, Kent, Purdy, Austin, Mancini, Smith, Savage – Abstain – Mason (absent)  

Cuttell: I’d like to add $500,000 for ongoing funding grants for affordable housing outside of the regional centre. I think we need this because the development funding grant is currently limited to the centre and there’s a lot of support in the regional centre, but not much for outside the centre. 

Austin: I support the intent but I don’t think this is a briefing note, I think it’s a full staff report thing. I don’t think I can support this with the dollar amount attached. But if there’s something specific, maybe request funding for that specific project. 

Kent: I appreciate Austin’s remarks, but I’m struggling a bit with seeing a tangible way the budget will help districts outside the centre plan. I for one have been hesitant to put any budget overs on the floor because I don’t want taxes to go up, but housing and homelessness is major priority for the city and we have access to funding we weren’t aware of. Can we ask staff to comment on the feasibility of this motion? We can’t say as a council we’re only willing to keep our priorities if they’re downtown. 

Dubé: I think Councillor Austin summed it up pretty well, if we’re going to stand up a grand program for affordable housing outside of the centre, we don’t know what the criteria would be, for example. So this sounds like a full staff report. There’s not necessarily a requirement to put something like this in the ‘parking lot’, you can do this later in the year, with a full staff report that outlines parameters and a source of funding. It would take us 2-3 months to get back to you on this anyway. 

Cuttell: My intent is that there’s $250,000 in the budget for the regional centre. Their target for Q4 is to launch a grant program, it’s a deliverable that’s already in the budget, but it’s restricted to the centre. I don’t necessarily want to create something new but allow that to expand outside of the regional centre. 

Traves: If this is for a program, staff report is the way to go. If it’s to assign funding, then this is the way to go. 

Cleary: For staff to come up with a plan for this, I don’t think they can do it in two weeks. I can’t support it for the budget because we won’t have enough information in two weeks. And the motion says ongoing funding, I don’t think we can do this in two weeks.

Savage: I spent seven years on council telling them to support housing even though it’s not our mandate. But two weeks isn’t enough time, this is an arbitrary amount, who are our partners? 

Mason: I share these concerns, but have an additional concern that general tax revenue would be excluded from being spent in the centre. It’s different than the affordable density bonusing. I think this should start with a staff report. The regional centre isn’t just downtown, it’s five districts in the regional centre. Part of this is saying that the payoff for you allowing taller towers is we’ll spend the money here.  

Hendsbee: I support the initiative of Cuttell, if we’re going into affordable housing we gotta be all in, up to our necks. I think the deed transfer tax would be a good source of income. Ecum Secum might not be good for housing but there’s a couple of abandoned schools out here we could convert. I’d support a staff report on this but we need to see how it fits into our other funding plans. 

Outhit: Just for clarification, the bonus density exists only because of what we’re allowed to do in the centre, and we’re looking to expand it. Right now, we asked for $250,000 in the ‘parking lot’ for affordable housing, if it’s not part of the density bonusing, why do we need to use it in the centre? Does it? Can we just add more to that and use it wherever we want? If we have an AO that allows us to do this, why does this require more steps? I hope that’s clear. 

Fraser: The funding for this, we’d put it in a staff report. The AO bit is more for Denty. 

Denty: In terms of the $200,000 as a withdraw from reserves is from the density bonusing. 

Cuttell: I appreciate all the work that’s gone into the density bonusing and affordable housing. But this isn’t about the density piece, it’s that outside of the core there’s no funding for affordable housing. It wasn’t meant to be ongoing funding. If we need to come back with that for a staff report that’s fine but we need something for the municipality as a whole. 

Kent: Denty, do we have anywhere, where we could allocate some funding towards this goal, right now? Regardless of what it looks like. 

Denty: I would need to come back to you with this. We’re not starting from scratch but I don’t think I can pull something out of the air right now. 

Kent: If you want to work together on this Cuttell for a staff report for council, I’m in. Heads up council, it’s coming back to you and I hope you support it. 

Morse: I find it very upsetting when there’s a development approved in a suburban area with no affordable housing because it’s a missed opportunity. There was a development here that was looking to have affordable housing but we couldn’t do it because there was no criteria. You have people willing on all sides to contribute to this but no framework to allow them to do it. I support whatever we can do to support the initial steps to get affordable housing outside the city centre. 

Purdy: I support this. There is a need, and there are one-offs that could use the funding. 

Cuttell: I’ll retract this and bring it forward at council for a staff report. 

Deagle-Gammon: I’ll paste a motion into the chat, and we’ll see if legal tells me I can do this. I missed this opportunity for Halifax Fire. I’d like $40,000 in one-time funding for the Enfield Fire Station. We’re in the middle of negotiating and there was $40,000 paid to Enfield Fire as part of the budget, that was cut. There is some background saying the funding was required for a ladder truck. I know we’re working on it and the one-time funding is in there to get us to next year because it might not be needed next year. But I need the assurance that it’s there if we need it. 

Hendsbee: This was part of the mutual aid funding responses, so I’ll support this initiative to get the mutual aid agreement back in place.         

Cleary: Was this an over that Fire asked for? Or is this something the local councillor wants (a.k.a. the ‘Lovelace gambit). Because if it’s ongoing funding (it’s not), then it could increase the tax rate for something that doesn’t happen. I’m not sure I’ll support this, because if we get mid-year and need to fund it, we can fund it. 

Outhit: This came up at the end of our discussion with Fire and I gave her bad advice. She wanted to go in-camera and have a discussion because it was contract negotiations. But she just wants to earmark it, and I gave her bad advice. 

Mancini: If it’s Outhit’s mistake he can take it out of his capital budget.

CAO: We’re in the process of negotiation right now, if there’s going to be any money exchanged in this matter it’s a small amount and I don’t want to compromise our negotiation at this point. If there’s an amount of money required to seal the deal we can find the money somewhere. 

Austin: So is the CAO’s recommendation that we not add this in because we’re in negotiations?

CAO: Correct.

Austin: We shouldn’t compromise our negotiations for this. 

Deagle-Gammon: That’s why I prefaced this motion with ‘if legal permits.’ But I’m worried that if the money isn’t there the deal won’t be complete and our residents will be out of coverage. If there’s confidence that the money needed will be there, then I’m okay. But I’m still concerned. 

CAO: I can assure the councillor that the service level won’t be diminished, it’s more a matter of making sure the agreements are equitable. If a cheque needs to be written, it’ll be written. 

Cleary: Anytime we negotiate on anything typically fiscal services is given a cash envelope, it’s a small amount, but wouldn’t fiscal services have enough to cover this? 

Fraser: Depending on what the item is. Collective agreements, yes. Things like this we’d have a contingency built into the budget. We’d be able to find funding for $40,000.

Outhit: I’m willing to support a withdrawl of this, if Deagle-Gammon wants to. 

Deagle-Gammon: I’m glad the conversation got airtime, I’ll retract the motion at this point.  

*Meeting is adjourned*

Present:

Councillor Paul Russell, Chair (District 15)

Mayor Mike Savage

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 Lisa Blackburn (District 14)

Absent: 

Councillor Pam Lovelace (District 13)

Interviews:

N/A – COVID

Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

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