Archive for February, 2013

 

After a week hiatus we are back.   There was lots of activity in HRM chambers this week with both the committee of the whole and regional council.   Councillor McCluskey and Councillor Craig were absent to other related obligations.

                                  Sidewalk Taxes are changing

The big debate in the committee of the whole was regarding local improvement charges(LICs) and taxes for sidewalks.   The debate was lengthy and passionate over the course of the several hours.  Prior to this debate, depending on where you lived within our region how funding was collected for sidewalks varied greatly.   It was combinations of LICs for construction, maintenance via urban general rate and snow clearing via another special rate.  The present tax levies, as per the staff report, cited this system was failing the needs of HRM.  As I watched the committee of the whole, the debate become at times bogged down on divisive points.   In the end, it was an amended by Councillor Mason that was approved in both the committee of the whole and regional council sittings.   The new approaching will leave LICs for rural HRM residents to construct sidewalks and maintenance funded by an urban/suburban general rate.  Residents in urban areas will pay for construction and maintenance with suburban areas within 1km of a sidewalk paying the same.  Some of the debate around the sidewalk issues, truly highlights how some of our municipal policy makers are very car centric.   If we are to move forward with active transportation projects, sidewalks need to be part of the puzzle.  Secure funding for sidewalks, mass transit and bike lanes must be a priority in this city.

                                 No Officer Cuts in New Police Budget

Chief Blais presented a budget for HRP that if accepted by the commission would not result in any cuts to front line officers.   The operating budget would increase by 5.51% to roughly $73.7 million, and include conversion of administrative police positions to civilian jobs to help with savings. The budget has not be approved yet by the Board of Police Commissioners, debate will occur on February 25.  If approved, it will then go to regional council for final approval.   Also a report came out, to show violent crime stats are down.  It is good to hear that we will not loose front line officers.  However, as a city and a a police force, how the resources are allotted need to be examined.   There are distinct hot spots across the region, and cultural shifts we should be pushing for.   We should build on the cooperation between police and citizens to strengthen our communities.

 

                                    New Library Budget Increased by $2million

Regional council approved a request by Judith Hare, CEO of Halifax Public Libraries for a higher ceiling to fund-raise.  The funds would be used to help with interior decor of the new central library.  I am excited to see the new central library, and I believe it will be a great addition to our city.   As our cultural capital increases, it is good to keep stock of our recreation capital and how we can make our green spaces interactive.

Till next week: stay connected and talking

BJV

 

 

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In the last week of January, regional council has made some interesting choices and there have been some long term projects that are moving forward albeit slowly.

First up, Councillor Steve Craig (District 15- Lower Sackville) purposed a motion around the crosswalk issues.  Over the last year, accidents between motorists and pedestrians in crosswalks have grown exponential.  Specifically, in the last two months there have been at least 10 people struck in crosswalks across HRM.  Ken Reashor, who is the Traffic Authority for HRM and Director of Transportation and Public works, has taken an unpopular stance on crosswalk safety. He believes that less not more crosswalks are the answers, and that motorists should maintain the right of way more often. Working against people such as Norm Collins, who has been a long time crosswalk safety advocate; Reashor has in my opinion helped the foster the car centric policies of HRM.

Councillor Craig’s motion is as follows:

11.3 Councillor Craig

That Halifax Regional Council direct staff to provide a report which:

1. Prior to the end of fiscal 2012-2013, to provide an interim report that:
– Provides the current understanding of how HRM focuses and performs on all factors related to pedestrian safety – HRM engineering, public education, law enforcement, public engagement and evaluation;
– Identifies HRM pedestrian safety statistics and how HRM statistics compare relative to other municipalities; and
– Identifies a short-term HRM action plan to address pedestrian safety and any impacts on the 2013-2014 budget.

2. During fiscal 2013-2014, to develop and present for consideration by Halifax Regional Council, a long-term comprehensive pedestrian safety action plan to help ensure, and to be seen as ensuring, overall pedestrian safety for HRM residents based on:
– The analysis of factors which may be contributing to pedestrian accidents;
– Provides options considering both process and organization structure that focuses on engineering, education, enforcement, public engagement, such as a Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee, overall evaluation, policy and legislation, inter-agency/departmental coordination and cooperation elements;
– Provides a mechanism for continuous reporting and evaluation of the foregoing; and
– Identifies ongoing budget impacts to the proposed action plan.

In addition, that the Mayor, on behalf of Halifax Regional Council, correspond immediately with the provincial Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to request an update regarding a recommendation from the 2007 Crosswalk Safety Task Force which stated that “the departments responsible for collecting and analysing collision data do so in a timely, comprehensive, consistent and accurate manner.”  [i]

While, I side with Councillor Craig on this motion.  There is additionally mention of the 2007 Crosswalk Safety Task Force that presented specific recommendations.  I think that the report process has some merit.  However, I feel that if we are to truly move forward on the issue it will need to be at the community level.  Presently, council is not moving to deal with the lack accountability of Reashor to HRM citizens.  While, this would require coordination with the province; I believe it should be a necessary part of this puzzle.   Furthermore, it is my hope that staff does not fully re-invent the wheel and access past reports, updating as required to expedite this process.   On the citizen level, if crosswalk safety is of concern to you I suggest that you contact your councillor and Mayor Savage to communicate such.

Another big, and in my perspective, positive move this week came out of the Audit and Finance Committee.  Eddie Robar, Director of Metro Transit, presented their annual budget but it did not include full late night ferry service.  Councillor Gloria McCluskey (District 5, Dartmouth Centre) motioned for Metro Transit to re-work their annual budget to include re-instatement of full late night ferry service.   The motion passed and sent Metro Transit back to the budgetary drawing board.   This is an important move, last year when regional council cut late night weekday ferry service, it was a horrible decision.   The harbour ferries provide a crucial link between our downtown cores, and if we are ever going to get serious about public transit in this city some of the things we need to:

  1. Restore full Halifax-Dartmouth ferry service to the level of pre-August 2012
  2. Look at expansion for the Woodside – Halifax ferry service.
  3. Explore how we can better use our harbour to move our residents around quickly and economically.

The negative aspect to the Metro Transit budget is the fare increase.   Metro transit has asked for a 0.25 cent increase, to help in funding technological modernization of their operations.  The fare increase was approved by the committee.  However, I do have reservations as to how that increased capital will be utilized.  Citizens have been hearing for years from Metro Transit, of a commitment to improved “real time GoTime” values, but to date that change has not occurred.   I am skeptical of the plan as in the past our public transit department has promised large but come up very short.   If you would like to read, the budget presentation from Metro Transit please click the link under the end notes.[ii]

The city has sold off the last piece of property it owned in Bayers Lake but because of development agreements has had to buy back the streets in this parcel of land to make them public.  Couple this with the expansion of the approved expansion in Burnside, and there is great potential to undermine our downtown core.  This is important because of the challenge we already face to attract retail and office space into our downtown cores.   Finally, council has approved a study to assess the viability of HRM investing in a district energy system.  District energy systems recycle waste heat from primary power generation, and sell it via a grid to customers.  The feasibility study will cost 300, 000.  I believe the investment could in the long term be beneficial to HRM and I approve the feasibility study.  If you would like to read the staff report, please check at the bottom of post.[iii] 

Stay Connected. Be Informed.

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