Alderney Ferry Schedule: The main bit of news for District 5 at Council on July 18 (agenda here) was the future schedule for the Alderney Ferry. I did a detailed write up on what’s in store on Friday as part of a general update. You can read it here.
In brief, Council has budgeted to retain the added hours from the Big Lift for the rest of this year because ridership on the ferry has grown significantly (up nearly 50%). For the enhanced ferry service to continue into the 2018/2019 fiscal year, the ferry will need to hold onto the new riders. So if you’re one of the many people that started taking the ferry after the Big Lift began, please stick with it.
The question that remains is how to distribute the hours after the Big Lift overnight closures end in the fall? My motion was for staff to look at a new schedule which will likely be 15 minute service till 8:30 pm (30 minute service 8:30 – midnight) and no change in the Saturday or Sunday hours. This would retain the hours from the Big Lift that saw the biggest increase (early evenings and Sundays) while also building on the strong daytime demand for 15 minute (fill the late morning/lunchtime gap). I suspect it’s the best approach.
Cole Harbour Place Roof: During the horrible winter back in 2014/2015, the build-up of ice caused structural damage to the roof of Cole Harbour Place above the facility’s Scotia 1 rink. The ice caused the roof to sink by about 5″. Temporary repairs were undertaken until a larger project could be completed. That works is about to begin. The project includes structural reinforcements and will result in the closure of Scotia 1 for the upcoming season. Displaced bookings from Cole Harbour Place will be accommodated at the Gray Arena. The total cost of the project is just over $2,000,000.
Baker Drive Master Plan: Just over the Circumferetial Highway, HRM is moving forward with developing a park on Baker Drive. The land was acquired by HRM from the developer of Russel Lake West in 2013 as part of the development agreement (all developers have to provide HRM with park dedication).
The planning process for developing a park near the corner of Baker Drive and Basswood Run began back in January and Council approved funding to actually start construction and landscaping in this year’s budget. The final Baker Drive Park Plan includes a gazebo, playground, open lawn area, tennis and basketball courts, and a trail through the space. In the future, a dog park could also be included on part of the site. You can read the detailed plan for the Baker Drive Park here
Sidewalk Snowclearing Tenders: Council voted to award several sidewalk snowclearing tenders across the municipality (sorry to scare you with talk of snow, but summer is when this bit of important municipal business happens). Included on the list on Tuesday was the Crichton Park/Manor Park area of District 5. I talked to staff in advance of this coming to Council and I’m pleased that these tenders have been improved based on lessons-learned over the last few years.
Under the old contracts, there were many areas where two contractors overlapped creating a no-man’s land that didn’t get cleared properly and that was difficult to hold contractors accountable for. Staff have tried to eliminate those situations by redrawing boundaries. In the old contracts, the contractor in charge of clearing the sidewalk was often different from the contractor who was in charge of clearing the bus stops in the same area. This led to the absurd situations of having the sidewalk cleared while the bus stop was left buried and vice-versa. Bus stops and the adjacent sidewalk will now be cleared by the same contractor. The biggest potential change though is the six hour grace period between clearing and salting has been eliminated. No extra-time over and above the service standard will be permitted for salting and sanding, which hopefully will reduce instances of bobcats leaving behind a film that then freezes. I felt last winter that there were a few storms where things would have been so much better on the sidewalks with just a bit of salt. Hopefully these changes will make for a smoother winter in 2017/2018.
Purcell’s Cove Backlands: Since it relates to a potential real estate purchase, Council discussed the Purcell’s Cove Backlands in camera. The rationale for handling real estate deals in secret is that if they were discussed in public, it would undermine the municipality’s ability to negotiate. Hard to get a good price if you’re broadcasting your bottom-line to the other side! Since this was in camera, I’m fairly limited in what I can write. The public motion that Council ratified gave direction for staff to proceed with negotiations and public consultation. Consultation with the public could begin in August. Staff will then return to Council in September 2017 with the outcome of the negotiations, public consultations, and a proposed governance model for the potential park.
Road Train: Regional Council voted to provide conditional municipal funding to the Community Road Train in Downtown Halifax. The municipality will provide $50,000 in funding for the first year, with the possibility of providing $70,000 more over the next two years. Staff recommended against providing any funding, but Council, as we do from time-to-time, went with the alternative option.
The alternative that Council voted for was to provide a grant if the owner provides, proof that the train is being run by a not-for-profit, a detailed budget, and a service plan. HRM staff will negotiate the contribution agreement for this year and any funding in future years will still need to be approved by Regional Council. Basically staff’s recommendation was don’t fund the road train, but if you’re going to fund it, these are the conditions that you should apply. Council accepted staff’s recommended conditions.
This decision was a bit of a toss-up for me. I have concerns that the Road Train isn’t being operated by a true not-for-profit. That’s a problem because providing grants to business is against HRM’s Charter. The municipality has run into trouble in the past stretching that definition (Seaport Farmer’s Market). The Road Train Society and Ambassatours directors are according to Joint Stocks, exactly the same. I have expressed my concerns about this to HRM’s Chief Administrative Officer.
On the other hand, the Road Train has been very well-received by tourists and Council has been getting good feedback from Downtown businesses. With all the construction underway, this has been a tough year for Downtown and the Road Train has been one of the few bright spots. HRM also has an unfulfilled commitment in the Downtown plan for a free shuttle. We’ll see what develops, but for this year, I felt the Road Train was worth the small risk.
If what is worked out this year ends up not passing the smell test, I will not support this when it returns to Council in 2018.
Area Rates: One bit of business at Council that proved to be surprisingly complicated was revisions to HRM’s series of area rates. An area rate is a tax that applies to a specific part of the municipality for a specific purpose. They’re most commonly used for roads and sewer/water projects. Before amalgamation though, Halifax County handled a lot of parks and recreation services through area rates. HRM has been moving away from that approach in favour of using the general tax rate to cover parks and recreation expenses. It’s an approach I favour from a basic equity standpoint. Government is in the business of providing services to residents and those services should be available for everyone and paid for by everyone.
The issue became quite contentious in Fall River where HRM collects an area rate for a private organization the Lakeview, Windsor Junction and Fall River Ratepayers Association (LWF). The LWF then spends the collected taxes on various recreational programs, notably the Windsor Junction Community Centre. As Fall River has grown and assessments have climbed, the LWF has accumulated a significant surplus and has started to broaden its mandate to provide general grants. Staff had proposed reducing the rate to eliminate the surplus to ensure the LWF is only collecting what’s needed to provide for its core facilities and not expanding its reach with funds collected from taxpayers. I’m not on Fall River politics, but this seems to have been presented as an attack on the Windsor Junction Community Centre. I received nearly 100 emails in about 12 hours on the subject.
The LWF setup is a bit of a quirk of history. The equivalent would be collecting an area rate to fund Dartmouth’s paddling clubs. It’s not a setup I would support if we were embarking on it now, but it’s well-established and the Windsor Junction Community Centre clearly provides significant public benefit to residents. In an ideal world, HRM would either own the Windsor Junction Community Centre outright and have it run by a community board, or the Community Centre would be sustained through private donations and funding from HRM via the community grants program like other facilities do. An area rate leaves it with a foot in both worlds. Not quite priviate and not quite public. Sometimes though you have to work with what is, not what should be. I was happy to support retaining the LWF rate as is for this year to allow Councillor Stretch to do some more work on the issue.
Council also deferred decisions on eliminating general area rates for Hammonds Plains and Musquodoboit Harbour. These general rates differ from the LWF rate in that they have no specific direction and are, instead, managed through applications from interested parties to community council. Both of them predate amalgamation and the Hammonds Plain rate has accumulated a large surplus. HRM already has a community grants program and each councillor also has discretionary funds. Since these rates aren’t attached to a specific facility or program, I voted to eliminate them. I was the only one that did so though so they both will remain for 2017/2018. HRM is undertaking a broader look at area rates and that report should be back before the 2018/2019 budget.
- Held a public hearing where Council approved the less than market sale of land to Lake City Woodworkers. The land is adjacent to the charities Windmill Road location and will be used at some point in the future to expand Lake City’s operations
- Changed the Neighbourhood and Special District Sign Bylaw to allow signs to be installed in the street right of way. The previous process limited signage other municipal properties (typically parks) or privately-owned land
- Approved changes to the False Alarm Bylaw. You’re still allowed one free false alarm per year, but the fine for subsequent false alarms has been increased
- Set a date for a public hearing to sell the Riverline Activity Centre to the community association that has run the facility since 2003 for $1 (facility dates back to the 1960s)
- Paving tender for sidewalks and a transit priority lane on Windmill Road in Burnside (previously approved in budget)
- Appointed three new development officers
- Approved banners for Ocean Breeze Village on Prince Margaret Boulevard
- Initiated a process to rezone a former boatyard in Bedford to allow the construction of several homes
- Approved changes to HRM’s Street Improvement Bylaw to simplify the process of paving gravel roads. Most of the roads are located in rural parts of HRM, but there is one in District 5 (Linden Lea)
- Low-Income Transit Pass Program was made permanent, and the bylaw including my amendment to allow HRM to remove users who aren’t buying passes (6 months of inactivity) so that their space can be provided to someone else.
- Gave first reading to Local Improvement Bylaw to allow for a modified version of the Fall River water project to go ahead (HRM’s portion to be paid back through an area rate).
- Accepted the Consolidated Financial Statements for last year
- Directed staff to begin shifting street cleaning operations to daytime hours in places where there is little daytime parking demand
- Provided a community grant of $10,000 to the Fairview United Family Resource Centre to cover the cost of a kitchen renovation
- Motion for a staff report from the Mayor to join the Downie Wenjack Legacy project by dedicating a room somewhere in HRM and contributing $5,000 towards the reconciliation fund
- Motion for a staff from Steve Craig to allow exemptions from the clear bag policy for individuals with health conditions that generate a lot of waste