Halifax Water Presentation:
A large portion of Council’s time this week (agenda here) was spent on a presentation from Halifax Water. Halifax Water is a private utility, but its sole shareholder is HRM. Once a year, Halifax Water comes before Council to present their business plan and to answer any questions that Council might have. Here’s a few items that stood out for me.
I was particularly interested in hearing what Halifax Water had to officially report about the Sawmill River project. There hasn’t been much public news on this project in a while, but there is lots going on behind the scenes. From Halifax Water’s update, the project has been split into two phases: Phase 1 from Irishtown Road up to Sullivan’s Pond and Phase 2 from Irishtown Road down to the existing outfall below Mill Lane and Alderney Drive. The tender for Phase 1 has been released and is expected to close in April. Construction will begin this summer. Phase 1 will include daylighting the portion in Sullivan’s Pond, in the Canal Greenway parallel to Ochterloney, and a small pond at the lower end of the Greenway. The Sawmill River will remain underground crossing Ochterloney and where Halifax Water’s easement crosses private property (Lock 4 condo). HRM Parks staff are still working on how the daylighted sections will work with adjacent park space and an information report is coming to Council soon. Halifax Water will also be holding a public information meeting in the future so stay tuned for more details.
For the upcoming year, Halifax Water won’t be applying for a rate increase. The utility has built up a small operating surplus and it will be drawing down that accumulated surplus to cover rising costs. So an increase will eventually be needed, but we’re getting a bit of a break for a year or two.
I’m very impressed with a Halifax Water project that we’ll all be hearing more about in the next few months: Lead Line Replacement. There are still some publicly-owned lead lines on the Halifax side and lots of private ones on the Dartmouth side. The old City of Dartmouth prioritized removing the lead pipes they owned, but most homeowners didn’t follow suit while the old City of Halifax wasn’t as proactive so there is a mix of both public and private lead pipes on the Peninsula. Halifax Water has partnered with Dalhousie to do some significant research on lead lines and how different conditions impact what comes out at the tap. Halifax Water’s decisions are being informed by science and they’re about to become a leader in North America. Halifax Water wants to remove all lead pipes, both public and private, by 2050. HRM and Halifax Water are looking at incentives to make it easier for private homeowners. A Solar City type program of low-cost financing is an option under consideration. I’m actually hoping that we can get the lead out sooner than 2050 as research is increasingly clear that there is no such thing as safe lead levels.
Ferry Naming Contest
The two new ferry’s coming to HRM’s fleet over the next year and a half will be named from suggestions submitted by the public. The process is the same as it has been for the last three ferries:
(1) Names will be submitted by the public online
(2) Names will be vetted by HRM staff to form a short-list of 20.
(3) The short-list will then go before the mayor and three councillors who will narrow the list to the final five
(4) The public will vote on the final five and the name with the most votes will be selected
Tax Relief for Non-Profits
Council approved the 2016/2017 tax relief for non-profits program. You can see the complete list of organizations receiving the various levels of support from HRM here (starts on page 14). We also adopted changes to the way organizations that default on their obligations to apply each year are penalized. To be eligible for tax relief, non-profits have to apply each year to show their financial need and that they provide a community benefit. In the past, non-profits who missed filing their renewals on time would start to have their tax exemption pro-rated by the number of days late they ended up being. This approach was adopted to create an incentive for organizations to file on time and be accountable for the support provided by the municipality. It also meant that the penalty paid depended on both how many days late a non-profit was in filing and on the value of their property.
While the formula was fairly easy to understand and administer, its impact was very disproportionate. The penalty paid by two non-profits who are equally late in filing could differ by many thousands of dollars. Here are some examples from the staff report from the last several years showing the variability.
What Council adopted as a solution was to introduce a three month grace period and cap any penalty at $5,000. These changes benefitted two Dartmouth non-profits in particular: Margaret’s House and Banook Canoe Club. The 2016-2017 application from Margaret’s House was received in what would have been the grace period, which meant that no taxes are owed, saving them $10,027. Banook Canoe Club was facing a hefty $13,974 penalty, but instead had the penalty reduced to $5,000, saving the Club $8,974.
I’m glad that when this came to Council in February that I spoke up and referred the late filers back to the Grants Committee for a second look. What has emerged is much more fair and doesn’t excessively penalize groups who are doing good work in the community for the mistakes that are part and parcel of having volunteer groups deal with bureaucracy.
Council approved a motion brought forward by Councillor Nicoll to endorse the Canadian Urban Transit Association’s resolution to develop a harmonized approach for electric buses. The idea is that there should be a Canadian standard, particularly for charging systems, so that electric buses can be more easily commercialized. It’s a timely resolution as HRM has partnered with Nova Scotia Power to complete a feasibility study on using electric buses. I’m hopeful that we’ll have a few in service in the years ahead.
Electric buses are more efficient, potentially cheaper to operate, and better for the environment. They also have the potential to greatly improve the quality of life on streets like Barrington by significantly reducing noise levels. That rumble of a diesel engine becomes the low-key hum of a battery. They’re likely the future for transit. In December, Montreal put the first fully electric buses into service in North America. If all goes well, Montreal plans to completely electrify their fleet by 2025.
We approved changes to the Lot Grading by-law, which will remove the requirement for permits in rural areas where there aren’t central sewers and houses are typically far apart. We also asked for a staff report on a Halifax Road Train proposal and approved planning amendments to allow for an expansion of the Halifax Grammar School’s Tower Road campus.