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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Council approves 2019-20 budget

The cumbersome process for dollar decisions is done.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Money money money, must be funny. - JESS REDLARSKI
  • Jess Redlarski
  • Money money money, must be funny.

City council approved $163 million in capital spending and $793.7 million municipal expenditures in the budget for 2019-2020 this week. The city's been shaking up the budget process for over five years, and this year’s parking lot of shopping expenses was the latest attempt to make the process more effective. Tuesday’s meeting was more ceremonial than conversational—apart from the last-minute attempt to strike funding for an Armoured Rescue Vehicle from the budget.

The $3,704,100 of parking-lot expenses range from library salaries to fire-hall jobs, and include snow clearing, trees and money for transit—and only make up a tiny part of the whole $955.7 million budget. ($162 million of that is mandatory provincial costs that the city gets no say over.) 

Only councillors Tim Outhit and Matt Whitman voted against the budget. Whitman objected to the number of big projects in the budget, saying “I thought we had talked about spending more money on more projects, spreading the money around rather than doing these huge projects like are proposed here.”

Outhit says that this, his 11th budget, just doesn’t do enough for small business, so he can’t allow it anymore. 

The biggest-ticket items include new transit technology for $10.6 million and $15.4 million for new buses. $36.1 million on road and bridge work, $7.6 million for active transportation projects as part of the Integrated Mobility Plan, $1.6 million on parking technology, $2.7 million on sidewalk renewal, $7 million on parkland acquisition, $3.2 million more for St Andrew’s Community Centre. Whitman also contested the expensive price tag on Scotiabank Centre’s new scoreboard (part of the over $5 million budgeted for renovations at the arena—to mostly happen after Halifax hosts the Memorial Cup). 

After provincial costs and fiscal services, Halifax Transit swallows up 12.7 percent of the budget, followed by transportation and public works at 10.6 percent and Halifax Regional Police at 10.4 percent. Of HRP’s $99,507,900 million budget, compensation and benefits accounts for $92,157,600, or 93 percent. Transit spends 67 percent. 

By trying to make the budget process more of a value judgement process, the connection between dollars and decisions gets blurry. Library snacks valued at $50,000 are argued for or against as passionately as a half-a-million dollar armoured police vehicle, and more so than a $3.2 million addition in funding for community centres. 

After voting not to spend surplus money to keep the rate down, residents will see a 2.3 percent increase in the average tax bill. The inflation rate was set at 2.6 percent so in theory councillors worked to save residents 0.3 percent. In theory. On the average HRM property, which is assessed at $241,400, the tax bill will increase $42.85 to $1,967. 

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