This week, after months of presentations and debate, Halifax Regional Council unanimously passed its budget for the 2021/22 fiscal year.
The grand gesture of the budget process exists to increase transparency around how Halifax spends its money. All told, HRM is gonna spend $833 million on services and programs; $178 million on building new stuff or restoring old stuff; and pay for it all with a combination of residential and commercial taxes, debt, revenue, COVID-relief money from the federal government, and a juicy chunk of money that came through Halifax’s hot-housing market and the deed transfer tax.
Tucked away in the over-a-billion dollars of spending are 10 things worth feeling good about.
$220,000 for the accessible taxi program
This program comes out of HRM’s work on taxi reform and authorizing transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft–noting there’s a huge gap in these services for folks who have accessibility needs. The municipality plans to subsidize and procure vendors to provide private, accessible, on-demand transportation services. (HRM tried to include a levy in its Uber rules that would kick $0.20 for every ride toward this program, but the province said no.)
$72,500 for HRM’s project to fight anti-Black racism
Part of the promises made by council in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, this money will employ a human to work establishing an anti-Black racism (ABR) strategy and implement a corporate action plan. The first year will include establishment of an ABR committee of council, corporate anti-Black racism training, establishment of an internal ABR advisory committee and a corporate-wide ABR awareness campaign.
$263,000 for affordable housing initiatives
Any work done on affordable housing by HRM in past years has been done off the side of someone’s desk. But the longstanding “it’s the province’s responsibility” rhetoric has subsided and this year HRM has not one but two planners in its budget to look directly at the issue. The work will look at the affordable housing grant program in fall 2021—money that will come from the incentive/bonus zoning program—work on the Rapid Housing Initiative projects and work on the short-term rental regulations bylaw “which will include a focus on reducing the impact of short-term rentals on the long-term rental market.”
$749,000 in accessibility upgrades around HRM
This money includes more beach matting (making beaches accessible to wheelchair users), washroom upgrades around HRM and an audit of accessibility standards.
$875,000 for Fort Needham Memorial Park
A long-awaited upgrade to Needham Park will see construction for the net-zero carbon emissions washrooms get underway.
$500,000 for parkland acquisition
This is money earmarked for land that could expand or improve regional parks in HRM. Listed in the brief as possibilities are the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes park, trails and water access in Eastern Passage and other parkland opportunities “Sackville, Middle Musquodoboit etc.” Plus! Council has kicked in $25,000 to get the West Bedford Trailhead for the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park designed.
$900,000 for playground replacement
Beaverbrook Park, Mornington Court Park, Taylor Drive Park, Laura Drive Park, Shubie Park, Harbour View Elementary School Park, Africville Park, Hartlen Park, Birch Bear Run Park, Shatford Memorial Elementary School Park, Sackville Masonic Playground and Lakecrest Drive Park are on the list for replacement this year.
$600,000 for six full-time employees to support HalifACT
HRM talked a big game last year unveiling its impressive plan to mitigate climate change, HalifACT 2050. But these six new positions in the budget means the work laid out in the plan will actually have dedicated bodies and brains to do it.
$5,325,000 for bike lanes
Only $1.6 million of that is new to the budget this year—the rest is spending previously allotted money—but it means we should see bike infrastructure on Wyse Road from Albro Lake to Thistle Streets, Almon Street from Windsor to Gottingen and a design plan to fix the insanity that is biking across the Macdonald Bridge, among other projects.
$175,000 for public art pieces
Two new works of art will be unveiled in HRM this year, at St Andrew’s Recreation Centre and Queen’s Marque. Though it’s worth asking why Queen’s Marque developer Armour Group Ltd couldn’t shell out the $125,000 itself, we’re still celebrating HRM putting its dollar bills behind the arts in a year that has devastated the sector. And, for the next time they do, we’ve got a list of incredible local artists all worthy of a HRM-backed installation.
Updated: This article was updated on May 11 to add the dollar amount attached to the six staff to be hired for HalifACT, this information was not provided by HRM until after original publication.