Halifax Regional Council's budget committee kicked off its 2020/2021 budget process this week, diving into preliminary discussions on how and where to spend the municipality's—and the bank's—dollar bills.
First up this week was capital spending—better understood alongside its partner in crime, operational spending, which includes year-to-year costs of running a city: AKA groceries. Capital spending is the one time—or two- or three- time—spending for bigger projects that exchange the city's money for a good—buildings, cars, roads, bridges, parks and fields and courts, streetlights—and its upkeep (AKA a new roof). Staff is proposing to spend $174,735,000 on capital projects for the 2020/21 fiscal year.The money for capital spending comes from a combination of tax revenue, reserve accounts, cost-sharing—like this year’s federal gas tax dollars—and debt. In order to keep up with council's ambitious plans for the next few years, from the Integrated Mobility Plan, HalifACT 2050 and Moving Forward Together, CAO Jacques Dubé—whose glasses matched his bow tie for Tuesday's presentation—says big spending is ahead: "Capital needs will outstrip our funding." To afford the growth and renewal, the city is suggesting Halifax take on more debt to pay for it—$41 million this year and $112 million over the next three years.
Councillor Waye Mason, who was not satisfied with last year’s budget process says that the details broken down in this year’s report are better, he's happy that this process is so detailed in order to let council make better decisions on where to spend money.Councillor Lorelei Nicoll said she wanted to see more action on electric busses, and Mayor Savage agreed, saying that one reason that’s worth going into debt is for HalifACT 2050. The plan is still in early stages—only $11 million in the capital budget for the next three years—but Savage says “If we’re serious about climate change, and if we’re serious about the sort of commitments we're making for the next generation, for the people who came down to grand parade and to the ledge [legislature] it’s not going to be something that we can do off the side of a desk with the few bucks that we have left at the end of the year, it is going to require money.” Even councillor Steve Streatch took a moment to thank councillor Richard Zurawski for his advocacy about climate issues, saying the councillor had managed to change his mind on these matters. Only one member of the public, Rick Mayuk, came forward to talk about the plan. He spoke about the importance of splash pads, and his dismay they’d been pushed past the three-year plan into the next 10.
Some of the bigger ticket items in the proposed capital budget include $3.5 million for the Ragged Lake transit centre expansion, $6.5 million for the Mackintosh depot replacement, $1 million for the Scotiabank Centre, $3.5 Million for the West Bedford Park and ride, $4.5 million for the Woodside Ferry Terminal upgrade, $600,000 for Beazley Park and $600,000 for Halifax Common upgrades. There’s $3.8 million for bikeways, $4 million for road repairs, and $2.5 million for sidewalk renewals.
There’s $12 million allocated for the Cogswell redevelopment project, but Dubé says that based on the value of the land to be developed, the project should pay for itself.
Once each councillor took their turn saying why or why not they liked or didn't like the plan—enough detail/not enough details, sufficient spending/not enough rural spending, big projects to drive growth/the wrong big projects to drive growth—time was up and the part of the budget process when councillors voice their own special projects or places they think money would be better spent must wait until the next meeting.