Everything you need to know about HRM council's Jan. 10, 2023 meeting | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Everything you need to know about HRM council's Jan. 10, 2023 meeting

Is transit reform the solution to our taxation woes?

The property tax people gave a presentation to council on Tuesday. Lloyd MacLeod, director of assessment with the Property Valuation Services Corporation, explained to HRM councillors that PVSC values homes lower than most people expect because the valuations lag a bit. People’s property values have gone up, as has been reported in the media. MacLeod says if people want to appeal their assessment, they should call his office. He says PVSC did do some preemptive research to see damages from Fiona, but he expects it will have missed some damage that would lower people’s valuations.

Also worth noting is that a lot of the councillors were visibly sick and should not have been at work. Did council learn anything about contagious diseases over the past two years? Apparently not.

Things that passed

After a prolonged public debate case 23671 will pass. The much abridged version of a very long process is that Upper Hammonds Plains is a historic Black community in the HRM that started in the 1810s. For decades, the land around the Black community has been bought up and used for various things like industrial storage, amusement parks and school bus parking. The community asked council to allow residents to have a larger say in development and to stop allowing industry to kill the community with the old General Use-1 zone and instead amend it to give the community agency over its growth. Multiple public speakers urged council to do the right thing and amend the GU-1 zone, and council did.

Council gave second reading to the motion to repeal C-900, which is the old stormwater bylaw. This will be replaced by the new stormwater bylaw—a switch to service-based taxation that’s starting our city on the path to fiscal sustainability.

Hannah Kelly, Shawn Kennedy and Liam Swartz are now building officials. They’ve finished their training and will be joining the city’s roster of people who can administer and enforce the Nova Scotia Building Code. Congratulations!

Council voted to defer a motion on taxation zones and funding models for transit in order to get more information. Staff recommended no changes because the current plan has worked to expand transit over the past 13 years. In the deferral process, council had a very interesting debate that will be expanded on in the notable debates section below.

Changes are coming to Brunswick Street, but councillor Patty Cuttel pulled this off the consent agenda to ask why the street was being prioritized when there was so much other work in the city that needed to be done. Staff explained that it’s important to the Integrated Mobility Plan. Councillor David Hendsbee wanted to know if the accessible parking on Brunswick street would be lost. City staff said not really, just moved a bit. Councillor Tony Mancini then asked about parking and making sure there was some for cars. Staff explained that prioritizing cars would make everything worse, but if council directed them to do so, they could make the city worse. Local business Steve-O-Reno’s has been lobbying to save the parking spaces on Brunswick, and has launched a survey. Councillor Waye Mason said this is happening because council voted for it to happen and got funding for it. This passed, with councillors Cuttell and Trish Purdy voting no. Based on their debate performances, Cuttell voted no because she doesn’t think this should be a priority. And Purdy voted against it because Halifax can’t be a cycling city like Montreal, because unlike Montreal—the city named after the mountain it’s on—Halifax is hilly. Here’s an article from 2015 explaining how the hilly Montreal became an unlikely bike city in spite of those hills.

Remember when NHL bruiser John Scott ended up being an NHL All-Star MVP? Remember when the British named a ship Boaty McBoatface? Online surveys can be trolled by internet citizens using private browsing windows. To anyone considering civic action, online polls are the absolute worst way to plead your case to council.

Councillor Pam Lovelace has asked for a staff report to change when public participation happens in standing committees. She says public participation should happen earlier in the meeting so people can speak to agenda items before the standing committee votes on them. This is a no-brainer change. The fact that council needs a full-on staff report to make a minor administrative change instead of just making the minor administrative change is a potential warning sign that Halifax’s government may have costly and unnecessary bureaucracy bloat.

Council voted to give $7,000 to Mount Saint Vincent University to document the next two years of Halifax’s City Hall. This project expects to document Halifax’s relatively rare gender-balanced council, the 30th anniversary of amalgamation in 2025 and “raising awareness of local government and collecting digital content for Halifax Archives.”

Mason has asked staff for a report on development. He wants this report to tell council what data the city should be keeping track of to assess developments, and wants this assessment done twice a year. And Mason wants a list of legislative changes that would or could be required to make development approval go faster. And he wants this report back in 120 days. This is a bit of a shot at the provincial government, but also information that would be quite useful for the city to have.

Council sent the Board of Police Commissioner’s request for independent legal counsel to the budget adjustment list.

After a bit of a debate about public vs. private land ownership, case 24239 passed, meaning a planned subdivision for the former camp on Youth Camp Road has been approved. This land was donated to the community in the 1950s and the community has been able to use the private recreation facilities of the camp as though they were a public good. The new owners of the land want to take away this prime piece of waterfront land to build a planet-killing subdivision. Councillor Shawn Cleary correctly argued that the city has to let this happen because the legislation governing City Hall prioritizes landowners' rights over providing public goods.

And a bunch of notices of motion were filed: Mason wants to regulate rental units, Sam Austin wants to change street parking permits, Becky Kent wants sidewalks in rural areas, and Cathy Deagle Gammon wants area rates for road building. More to come on all of those in future meetings.

Notable debates

Council had a very interesting debate about the future of transit and taxation. Staff recommended against council changing the transit funding model because it’s been working great (according to the city’s accountants) for years, so there’s no point in changing it. However, councillors all took issue with staff’s recommendations and deferred this agenda item to get more information. What council debated, broadly speaking, is that transit is a public good, but isn’t really being paid for like one. They said paying for transit out of the general rate (everyone pays a bit) is good if it’s limited because transit does benefit everyone. But they also pointed out that even if someone doesn’t take the bus, they still benefit from bus routes on their street because it means fewer cars on their road. Council told staff to consider a funding model where people in the geographic vicinity of bus routes pay more, even if they don’t directly use the service. If council does end up doing this service-based taxation switch, it means the city will become more financially and economically sustainable. Council also directed staff to consider asking people who don’t take the bus what it would take for them to use a bus. Councillors told staff that focusing on ridership is focusing on people who are already using the bus. And they were worried that focusing on ridership is artificially limiting transit’s effectiveness.

This will come back to council at some point, but it was just really refreshing to hear councillors talk about a substantive issue in a substantive way and look for solutions that change the currently-not-working status quo. Just a nice little bit of optimism to start the new year.

About The Author

Matt Stickland

Matt spent 10 years in the Navy where he deployed to Libya with HMCS Charlottetown and then became a submariner until ‘retiring’ in 2018. In 2019 he completed his Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College. Matt is an almost award winning opinion writer.

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