It was a pretty boring HRM council meeting—a smattering of grants for community groups; a bit of extra money going out the door due to “inflationary pressures.” The only real big-ticket item to pass through Tuesday’s meeting was the official opening of budget pre-season.
Council’s budget season is the highlight of municipal politics. It’s the time when our councillors take our hard earned property tax money and decide how to spend it. It’s the most important and the most political HRM council gets, and it’s so dry even those of us who are exicted for it struggle to stay awake for the meetings.
This year will be a little different when it comes to the police budget. The way the city read the police act meant that, up until last year, there was no way for council to exert its power over the police except for vetoing their whole budget in the middle of budget season. To use a sports analogy, if council was to exercise its power in the old process it would be like breaking a star players leg, on purpose, on trade deadline day. The police budget would have needed to be really bad for councillors to take that course of action.
Now, however, council will see the police budget twice at two different stages to let the Board of Police Commissioners and the department adapt to the will of council. Mark your calendars: 2023 will have honest to goodness police oversight for the first time in a long time.
Things that passed:
A flypast request was approved for Remembrance Day. A single one of Canada’s troubled Cyclone helicopters will fly past Grand Parade at approximately 11:02am on Nov. 11.
A friendly reminder: Not all veterans appreciate being thanked for their service. Canadian foreign policy is messy; not all of us like being reminded of what we did for this country. For some of us, being thanked for our service feels like a thank-you for doing terrorism.
The city is spending $80,000 more than it planned on a dock for a fireboat. The plan was to include the dock (for our new 36-foot fire rescue boat) in the ongoing Woodside repair budget, but due to “inflationary pressures” the city needs to pay more. The new total for the Woodside wharf repairs is $185,579.15, and the money will come from a capital budget account.
The city will give the Nova Scotia SPCA up to $25,000 in funding a year for its self-explanatory Trap, Neuter, Return Program. The program's previous funding ran out in the spring.
Council considered changes to its strategic budget planning processes. The big ticket item here is that the Halifax Regional Police will change how its budget is presented to council. In previous years, council was presented the police budgets after they were completed, requiring an approval or denial and no room to change what the budget looks like. This year the HRP staffing levels will be set by council and the BOPC, then there will be a second budget after the staffing levels are approved.
In other budget news, the city put very little into reserves last year and is in a deficit this year. The city’s big surplus contributor—the deed transfer tax—is way down this year. The city’s budget, at this point in time, will be $76.6 million in the hole. This will come back to council with scheduling changes to accommodate councillors.
The electronic transit fare prices, as recommended by Transit Standing Committee, have made it through council. Ticket and cash fares will remain the same price, and fare prices on the app will be fractionally cheaper than their paper counterparts. The app is expected to be widely available in the next month or so.
The chief administrative officer has been directed to give a staff report to council on whether NSCAD students can do art installations in Point Pleasant Park. The park is down a bunch of trees after Fiona; anything to make that a bit less depressing should be encouraged.
The SaltWire Holiday Parade of Lights is getting $75,000 ($25,000 per year) over the next three years. This was pulled off consent by councillor Paul Russell because he wanted to make sure the city wasn’t spending money for the next three years. He was assured by staff that this was just earmarking the money, so council will still vote to spend the $25,000 each year. And councillor Cathy Deagle-Gammon, who clearly read the report, explained to Russell where the answer to his question could be found in the report. This passed unanimously.
And as an added item, council approved its schedule until June, and passed some in-camera stuff.
Literally none. This was a very, very, very, very, very dry meeting.