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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Council Review: “The Peggy’s Cove of Barrington”

In which the arts community breathes easier and matters aqueous are discussed.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 10, 2014 at 1:27 PM

click image @NSLCPunk - FELIX SUPPORTS THE KHYBER.
  • Felix supports the Khyber.
  • @NSLCPunk

“There’s a reason that I love this town.” —Mayor Mike Savage, quoting Joel Plaskett to the assembled Khyber supporters.

“The Peggy’s Cove of Barrington.” —Councillor David Hendsbee's rather strange metaphor for the Khyber.

“Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.” —Councillor Waye Mason.

THE KHYBER STANDS

It wasn’t the best start before yesterday’s Halifax Regional Council meeting when staff asking the assembled Khyber supporters to remove or turn-around their white “Khyber Forever” t-shirts (which apparently count as protest signs). Luckily, that wasn’t a portent of the historic building’s fate, as council removed the Khyber building from the proposed list of disposable surplus properties presented.

Halifax’s arts, queer and cultural communities deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve rallied together over the previous few weeks to fight for the Khyber. The supporters in attendance yesterday handed a petition with close to 2,400 signatures to Council. It’s hard to ignore that kind of passion.

The vote was unanimous on a motion put forward by Waye Mason, who also requested city staff compile a new report looking deeper into repairs needed on the 126-year-old building. In 2010, staff proclaimed the Khyber needed $600,000 in repairs. That number jumped up to $1.63 million in 2013, and further increased to $4.1 million this past summer. The city says the 2013 assessment was just on “bare bones” upgrades to get the building seaworthy again, and this year’s increase would be for accessibility upgrades like barrier-free access and an elevator.

Mason also asked for a report on how the city can support the Khyber as an arts incubator, a promise Halifax has failed to live up to since it declared the building as such in 2010. As the downtown councillor pointed out, the large cost to renovate the Khyber is precisely because the city has ignored the building for close to 15 years.

Despite the momentary good news, the Khyber’s future is still an unknown. Someone will have to pay to upgrade it someday, and that discussion will likely still be contentious. In the meantime, the Khyber still stands empty on Barrington.

WATER FIGHT

The Khyber might have been the headliner, but the real fight was on the undercard where council debated altering the governance of the Halifax Regional Water Commission.

Councillor Steve Craig tabled a staff report yesterday to clarify some government framework on the relationship between the Halifax Regional Water Commission and the city. It recommends making HRM the sole shareholder of the HRWC, and further to define its scope and authority. It also directs staff to develop administrative orders outlining competency requirements for board members, financial statement, performance metrics and how much board members are paid. Craig also wants Halifax Water board meetings open to the public.

It’s all in an effort to make Halifax Water more directly accountable to the public it serves. Director of finance Greg Keefe wisely pointed out that currently there’s no way the city can give direction to the public utility on how they operate. Councillor Stephen Adams disagreed, arguing folksily that we could just give Halifax Water a ring-ding on the old telephone if we want them to make certain decisions.

“Unless there’s disagreement,” Keefe replied.

Several councillors, many of whom either are or were on the HRWC’s board, argued with Keefe that things are going just fine under the current operational model. Waye Mason, siding with Craig, reasoned that’s exactly why these issues should be addressed now rather than later, when disaster strikes.

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” Mason said.

Eventually council deferred two of the recommendations back for further discussion with the executive standing committee and Halifax Water managers.

ELSEWHERE

The new five-year active transportation plan was approved. The plan builds off the 2006 master plan and focuses on shifting the city away from cars, relying more on actually useful walking, cycling and transit services. As councillor Jennifer Watts pointed out, this is the first step in a physical and psychological step towards a better connected HRM.

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The city approved awarding a tender to replace our ICT backup system, which is tape-based, hilariously out-of-date and “fails regularly.” The system is used for the backup and recovery of about 30 TB of HRM and Halifax Regional Police information. Aside from logistic ease, there’s an environmental reason to switch the system as right now “tapes disposed of ultimately end up in land fill sites as they are not biodegradable.”

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After the first proved a success, Halifax will have a naming contest for the two new ferries scheduled to hit our harbour in 2015 and 2018, respectively. David Hendsbee had wanted to look at naming the ferries after the first two ships that travelled into Halifax Harbour, but was ignored. Mayor Savage suggested he could submit those entries in the contest. The ferry names will be decided by January, with the chosen submitters receiving a one-year transit pass.

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Halifax has new burning laws, which puts the city more in line with provincial rules on when you can and can’t light your chiminea. It’s fairly confusing, but even the fire department personnel at council basically said they only move on these infractions if there’s a complaint.

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Overall grade: B+

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