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Should it stay or should it go?

Halifax Regional Council's budget committee inches closer to a finalized budget for 2020/21, The Year Of The Pandemic.

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THE COAST
  • THE COAST

Halifax Regional Council's committee of the whole made it halfway through its budget adjustment list AKA the parking lot AKA the wish list for this year’s recast budget today. This list includes things that Halifax councillors wanted to save from staff’s proposed $85 million in cuts, needed to keep the municipality in the black as we ride out the COVID-19 storm. 

The majority of these items and services were to be included easy-peasy in the budget that was so close to being finalized before the coronavirus arrived on the shores of Nova Scotia in March. 

A motion from councillor Waye Mason to take a second look at some things fuelled the creation of the parking lot, and here we are. 

Here’s a rundown of what was saved, what was cut, and what’s left on the list for tomorrow. 

Saved:

  • The proposed $11 million cut to the municipality’s vacancy management (jobs that are currently not filled and therefore wouldn’t be filled if the money was cut) was sliced in half, keeping $5.6 million in play to fill jobs as the municipality sees fit.
  • The proposed $4 million cut to parks and recreation funding for day camps and recreational facilities was reduced to $3.5 million, with director Denise Schofield saying that the province lightening means HRM is working to have some form of day camp, but noting that it’d be highly modified and nowhere near normal summer camp levels. A bit of the $500,000 saved will also help some facilities open up over the next few months.
  • $315,000 for seasonal employees who tidy up around the downtown area, often in coordinate brightly coloured t-shirts.
  • $150,000 for community grants—the proposed cut was one-third of the originally allotted money. Councillors voted to keep the whole amount available for community groups.
  • Proposed $110,000 cut for museum grants—saved.
  • $345,000 for Barrington Street tax grants that will help the folks on Barrington Street do some of the historically-minded development the city is asking them for.
  • Staff proposed cutting 85% of the Integrated Mobility Plan funding to the tune of $85,000. Council said no!
  • $230,000 was saved to pay for HRM to continue to collect and test beach water throughout the municipality. (The cut was drafted before the province opened beaches. By end of August last summer the testing had led to beached being closed 14 times due to high bacteria levels in the water).
  • $80,000 for a heritage planner.
  • Council voted earlier this week to save $2 million in compensation funding for the Halifax Regional Police and $1.8 million for Halifax Fire

Cut:

  • $37,000 for community events like the New Year’s Day levee put on by the Mayor’s office.
  • $75,000 for the citizen survey

  • $750,000 for district capital funds—in a move that almost backfired, Councillor Shawn Cleary had asked that these funds be cut instead of just deferred as staff suggested, but it turns out eight of the 16 councillors + 1 mayor actually wanted to use these funds in their district this year. Not enough to defeat the motion, but just enough to expose the unspeakable rural-urban divide.
  • $250,000 to get some tree planting back in the budget, brought forward by Councillor Sam Austin, lover of trees.
  • $283,000 in ferry service reduction–mostly because the ferries are running less now anyways.
  • $210,000 for Lake weed harvesting.
  • $100,000 for the accessible taxi grant program development. This program is supposed to make it easier for people to own and operate accessible taxis—of which there are fewer than 20 in the whole municipality.

    Decide tomorrow:

This is what's left on tomorrow's budget discussion list. A number not in brackets is the value that will not be cut from the budget if councillors vote to save it. If it's in brackets, that means it's a thing that's being suggested to be cut. We're sorry it's so confusing. - THE COAST
  • The Coast
  • This is what's left on tomorrow's budget discussion list. A number not in brackets is the value that will not be cut from the budget if councillors vote to save it. If it's in brackets, that means it's a thing that's being suggested to be cut. We're sorry it's so confusing.

Remember, these are not the only things that were included in staff’s proposed $85 million in cuts. This is the result of councillors asking department heads questions and choosing which items they want a chance to reconsider. 

Tomorrow the committee will continue with the list, knocking off which things to save and which to leave on the chopping block. Then staff will return with new ways to pay for the things council wants to save—with the intent of leaving the tax rate the same. Then council will vote on the whole dang thing on June 9 if all goes according to plan.

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