7 items HRM’s new council will grapple with at its first meeting

Ditch tax changes, Sportsplex layoffs and cleaning out old staff reports are all on the agenda for Tuesday.

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Council meets Tuesday, November 8 at 1pm inside City Hall. - VIA HRM
  • via HRM
  • Council meets Tuesday, November 8 at 1pm inside City Hall.

Tuesday afternoon will mark the first meeting of HRM Regional Council since October’s election brought six new faces to City Hall. Those rookies will have their work cut out for them sorting through a discursive agenda. Here are a few items on the docket:

Stormwater right-of-way changes
Halifax keeps trying to dig up out of the ditch tax quagmire. Last year, in the face of sustained and thorough public hatred, council moved the public road stormwater runoff payment from individual Halifax Water bills to people’s property taxes. That had the unintended consequence of charging hundreds of people multiple times for any parking space or storage unit in their name, along with billing 4,400 residents who were previously exempt. A month ago council asked for options to fix those problems, but a new staff report now says that would be “very difficult.” Halifax Water and HRM apparently collect information differently, through incompatible systems. The two organizations would need “extensive data sharing” to figure out who should pay what, and city staff aren't even sure that would work. Council could choose to undue its decision and put the charge back onto people’s water bills, but that option “may no longer be feasible” because of Halifax Water’s recent application to the Utility and Review Board to create a five-tiered payment system for its own customers' runoff charges. Tuesday’s staff report helpfully notes that there’s a “medium level of risk to HRM’s reputation” depending on the outcome, and that public confidence in local government “could be further eroded.”

New interim agreement for Scotiabank Centre
The Nova Centre’s construction delays means a new interim agreement is needed for the municipally-owned, Trade Centre Limited-managed Scotiabank Centre. The new Halifax Convention Centre organization will replace TCL once the doors open down the road on Argyle Street, but that transition is still “ongoing” given the two-years-and-counting delay for Joe Ramia’s government-funded megastructure. So someone needs to keep the lights on at the Scotiabank Centre without impacting Moosehead games and Our Lady Peace concerts, and before George Armoyan takes over the interconnected World Trade and Convention Centre. Staff need council to sign a new one-year agreement (with options for two, one-year extensions) as the original interim agreement from 2013 expires Monday, November 7.

Dartmouth Sportsplex expansion
Before the HRM-owned Dartmouth Sportsplex can proceed with its $23-million in updates and upgrades, council will need to ask for provincial approval. Design work is complete and the construction tender is already out for the 1,000 square metres of new space planned for the fitness facility (including a new entrance and gymnasium), but expanding the municipally-owned structure falls under the Dartmouth Common Act and will need the Legislature’s go-ahead. Renovations could begin as early as next spring, with an expected completion date of late summer, 2018. Meanwhile, layoff notices for May 29 have already been issued to the Sportsplex’s 185 casual, part-time and full-time employees.


Fall River Road water service extension
Generally speaking, water service extensions are discouraged under the Regional Plan. The municipality already has enough undeveloped land within Halifax Water’s boundaries to accommodate projected growth. But so long as Trudeau’s paying for it, why the hell not? The federal Liberal government announced back in August that it would fund nearly $4 million towards extending water service into the Fall River Village area (from Windsor Junction Road to Highway 102 and down Fall River Road to the 102 overpass). The province and a proposed local-improvement charge would cover the remaining cost. But accessing that money means work will need to be completed before March 31, 2018, which is a tight timetable. Nevertheless, staff are recommending that council award Halifax Water $800,000 for the preliminary design and a cost estimation of the project, and begin public consultation with nearby property owners.

Clear out old staff report requests
With all the new faces moving in, now seems like a perfect time for council review all of its old staff report requests and flag any items no longer needed. It’s an administrative policy created in 2015, and will be used for the first time on Tuesday. There’s currently an unanswered backlog of 85 requests, going all the way back to former councillor Linda Mosher’s 2008 motion for a staff report on banning in-sink garburators, along with more recent ideas like Stephen Adams attempt to maintain HRM’s lighthouses, Brad Johns’ ask for free parking downtown if your car has a veterans’ license plate and Reg Rankin’s marijuana stank report. The attached wish-list is a decent summary of every contentious issue council’s debated from the past few years, including transit, open-air burning, sidewalk cafés and construction mitigation. Also included are two overdue police department requests—one to establish a police foundation, and another looking to update pawn shop regulations.

Charter review update
The municipality’s Charter has been under review since 2013 in hopes the province will “recognize the maturity of HRM” and increase our legislative and financial autonomy. We’re a 20-year-old municipality and we should be able establish tax agreements, partner with the private sector and stay out as late as we want! City hall is also looking to be embiggened with “natural person powers” (NPPs) that anthropomorphize Halifax—making the province treat us more like a private person or corporation than a subordinate government. That would do away with the “laundry list” of what activities HRM is allowed to partake in and instead give us the ability to “do anything an individual has the right to do.” We’d be able to create our own non-profit entities, offer grants and loans, purchase shares in private companies, use property “for purposes other than municipal purposes” and even have overnight guests. A background thingy has been prepared to convince us all this is a good thing, but staff are also recommending more public consultation on the matter.

Top secret police stuff
The board of police commissioners wants to review its roles and responsibilities, and is asking staff to look at options for realigning the organization’s reporting structure. The request spins out of this past summer’s special board meeting to discuss the police department’s damning drug exhibit audit. At its September 19 meeting, the board of commissioners met behind closed doors to discuss a “private and confidential memorandum” from HRM’s legal team looking at clarifying those roles and responsibilities, and to get an update from Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais on the drug audit’s latest findings. Both in-camera items were added at the last minute to the meeting’s agenda. There was no direction from the board to publicly release the contents of its discussion or associated documents, so all of that information remains classified. Tuesday’s motion looks like it’ll be discussed publicly, but there’s also a related information item that’s currently scheduled to go in camera. According to the chief of police, the effort to locate the drug audit’s missing evidence “is ongoing” and “good progress has been made.”

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