Council Update: Cornwallis, Feeding Wildlife, Capital Plan

Cornwallis Statue. Photo: Jamie Moore

Cornwallis: The main item at Council’s October 3 meeting (agenda here) was the creation of a special advisory committee on Cornwallis and commemorating Mi’kmaq history in HRM. Setting up an expert panel isn’t an unusual approach in dealing with these sorts of issues. The staff report notes that several US cities have taken a similar path over the last few years in assessing Confederate monuments. HRM’s expert panel will be made up of eight members and two co-chairs. Half of the panel will be appointed by HRM while the other half will be appointed by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. The Committee will review the historical record and hold consultation sessions with the public. The Committee will be supported by HRM, but has been given wide latitude to setup its own processes and procedures, including the ability to report their work in phases if they wish. The Committee’s work is going to be hard, but I think it’s worth doing. The names of the Committee members will be released once HRM receives the names from the Assembly of their appointees and all are finalized. Establishing the Committee passed 15-2 (Adams and Whitman dissenting).

Not Dartmouth and Doritos apparently taste even better than pork chops. Photo: lileez2003

Feeding Wildlife: I put a motion before Council requesting a staff report on prohibiting the feeding of wildlife in HRM. I brought forward this issue after hearing from residents in two different neighbourhoods in District 5 who are having problems with their neighbours feeding wildlife. In the one instance, a resident has accumulated a large pigeon flock that covers neighbouring yards and properties in droppings. The other situation involves a resident throwing kitchen scraps into their backyard, attracting large numbers of rats and raccoons. Since Metro’s story on my motion, I have heard from many more people with similar stories from across HRM. Besides damage to property, feeding wildlife comes with potential health and environmental implications. Raccoons are cute, but they can spread disease and parasites including Rabbies, Roundworm and Leptospirosis. Deer, rats and pigeons also all are potential sources of health problems and coyotes can be downright dangerous. In Fredericton in 2012, a young woman went blind after contracting Cryptococcus meningitis from exposure to pigeon droppings. Attracting wildlife and habituating them to humans by feeding them is just a bad idea.

As I looked into the problem, I was surprised to learn that there are almost no rules around feeding wildlife. The Province doesn’t limit it and HRM’s current Animal Bylaw only prohibits feeding birds adjacent to water (an effective ban on feeding the ducks). So, although HRM’s bylaw officers are sympathetic to the complaints they receive, there is nothing they can do to stop a resident from feeding wildlife who is determined to do so. The same is true for the Department of Natural Resources.

Many municipalities from all across the country have brought in bylaws to prohibit feeding wildlife. Most bylaws from other municipalities include exemptions for backyard bird feeders since a well taken care of feeder can be a pretty harmless hobby. Council unanimously supported my request for a report and I expect staff will return to Council in a few months with possible bylaw changes for Council to consider. I expect that this will be a complaint-driven bylaw. HRM’s Bylaw Inspectors won’t go around searching for illegal feeding. What this bylaw will do is provide a recourse for extreme situations when neighbours complain. This wasn’t an issue I ever expected to bring forward when I was campaigning a year ago, but it’s all part of the job. Some issues you choose and others choose you.

Capital Projects: Council approved staff bringing forward a revised capital plan. The previous capital plan from 2014 directed staff to advance the Dartmouth Sportsplex renovation, the Dartmouth Four-Pad, the Cogswell redesign, the $50 million Downtown fund ($17 million in practice since neither the feds or province kicked in), and the Halifax multi-pad. These projects were all fairly well-developed and planned and were ready to proceed. The 2014 direction also included a second list of projects that can be described as more aspirational. The potential projects that needed to be further developed included a new police station, firefighter training facility, stadium, performing arts centre (later replaced with a cultural spaces plan), fast ferry/rail, and a library facilities plan.

The 2014 capital plan sought to cover the cost of the planned projects from HRM’s cash reserves while the sale of surplus properties and a 1 cent increase in the tax rate would go towards the second group of potential projects. Delivery of the planned projects has gone fairly well, with all of them either well into the planning phase (Cogswell, Halifax multi-pad), underway (Sportsplex reno, Downtown streetscapes) or finished (Dartmouth Four-pad). Costs are up slightly on the Sportsplex reno and the decision to go with the Forum reno rather than a partnership with DND means that the Halifax multi-pad will cost substantially more. The result is the planned projects actually cost $119,000,000 not $97,000,000, creating a gap of $22,000,000. On the cash flow side, the sale of surplus properties hasn’t gone according to plan, with just 2 of 13 properties sold so far. HRM will likely sell more of them with time, but some will likely go the community interest stream, which means they’ll continue to provide some form of community benefit, but they won’t net the market value that was initially estimated. Staff will return to Council with a revised capital plan in the near future.

It should be said that HRM has managed it’s debt very well over the years and as a result the municipality has fiscal capacity and options (we can borrow if we decide or we can grow reserves since we don’t have too much cash being gobbled up in interest). Finance doesn’t feel that HRM is at any risk of failing to deliver on the remaining planned projects (Halifax multi-pad, Cogswell). What ends up advancing though out of the larger wish list and how we pay for it are decisions for another day. More to come in the months ahead on this.

Cross-ride in Caledon, ON. Bikes on one side and pedestrians on the other. Photo: Caledon Enterprise

Motor Vehicle Act Bike Amendments: Council finalized a request to the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act to allow bicycle traffic signals and cross-rides. Both signals and cross-rides are already permitted in other Provinces, but Nova Scotia’s Motor Vehicle Act hasn’t kept up with the times and changing infrastructure needs. Getting the Motor Vehicle Act amended to allow signals and cross-rides here would be timely since the upcoming final draft of the Integrated Mobility Plan is likely to include a minimum grid of protected bike lanes. In Dartmouth, a cross-ride at Faulkner Street to get cyclists across Wyse Road to a proposed new bike ramp to the MacDonald Bridge from Lyle Street is a key design part of the Connector Project. Hopefully the Province will move swiftly to enact the needed changes so that HRM can get on with building complete streets for everyone.

Other:

  • Sold a small vacant lot adjacent to the Bedford Yacht Club to the Club for less than market value to support the Club’s Learn to Sail program.
  • Approved a budgetary increase for the construction of two pedestrian bridges and trail in Sackville.
  • Authorized a 10 year debt issue of $11,110,000 at 4% to pay for 2017/2018 capital projects. A routine budgetary measure as HRM’s debt is actually steadily decreasing by about $5,000,000 a year.
  • Approved an unbudgeted reimbursement of $190,895 to reimburse CN for repairs of the Ochterloney Street and Community Centre Lane (Windsor Junction) crossings. HRM was legally required to cover CN’s costs due to past agreements regarding these two crossings.
  • Set the release date for the HRM Amazon RFP staff report for October 20, the day after the RFP closes.
  • Asked for staff reports on a number of issues including criteria for placing garbage cans (Councillor Mancini), replacing road signs on private streets (Stephen Adams), carpool lanes (Councillor Zurawski) and displaying the Afghanistan conflict on the Halifax Cenotaph (Councillor Mason).

3 Comments

  1. Councillors should consider providing an option to members of council and employees to not join the HRM pension plan and have a 6% contribution by employer and a 6% employee contribution into an individual RRSP.
    Such a change has two advantages : the current contribution rate is circa 12% each and a change to an RRSP reduces cost; and the councillor/employee has control of the pot of money until death and a spouse would also receive a higher income than from the pension plan.

    • Interesting idea. In some ways it would be a better approach for many councillors. Being on council isn’t meant to be a job you do for 30 years, but the HRM pension plan that councillors are part of is aimed at long-term employees. For me, I’m in a bit of a third category in between the two because I have a pension plan that is transferable into HRM’s (8 years at PWGSC). So even if I had the option for an RRSP contribution, it would still make sense for me to continue building up the pension pot because I already have an 8 year start on a plan. That isn’t true for everyone though. Someone who only does a term or two on council would likely be better off with an RRSP (even better if you’re young a TFSA since gains aren’t taxed there) and the same is true of employees who don’t stay for their whole careers. On the downside, there could be implications for the pension plan of decreasing the number of people who don’t contribute, particularly those who won’t draw a full pension. Plan relies on pooled contributions. The ability for HRM to control the pension plan is currently very limited because of the collective agreements with the unions. I’ll keep the thought in mind as I’m sure we’ll have decisions to make regarding the pension plan over the next few years.

  2. How many people play hockey in metro, do you think? 1000 maybe? And how much of municipal funds are being spent on hockey rinks? Out of proportion, maybe? How many people are involved in art (amateur or professional)? And how much is spent on facilities? Out of proportion, maybe?
    My rant for today. 😉

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