Capital Budget: The holidays are truly over this week, with Council meeting on Tuesday for our regular agenda and again on Wednesday and Friday for 2019/2020 budget deliberations. The main focus of Budget Committee was our three-year Capital Budget. I wrote about the Capital Budget in my December E-News and the situation is we have a draft capital budget, which staff has broken down into A list and B list projects. The A list projects are ones that are funded during the next three years while the B list are ones that staff feel are priorities, but that aren’t funded. Unfortunately, the B list projects aren’t just minor items, they’re a huge chunk of the priorities that Council has been talking about. If Council doesn’t find a way to fund the B list, this is what will happen:
- Transit’s Moving Forward Together Plan’s next phase, which includes Dartmouth, won’t be implemented. HRM will pass up on ridership gains and have a half-done transit network.
- Smart payment options for transit will be delayed for several years, meaning those large-sized tickets that have been touted as temporary will be a larger than anticipated part of our transit system for much longer than previously suggested.
- The bus lanes promised for Robie Street and Bayers Road won’t happen.
- The All Ages and Abilities Bike Network promised by 2022 in the Integrated Mobility Plan won’t be finished on time.
- The Macdonald Bridge bike project, which is more than the high-profile ramp, won’t happen until the mid 2020s.
- Complete streets projects such as road redesigns, traffic calming, and new sidewalks won’t happen as quickly
- Buildings that are at the end of their life cycle will continue to be used, even though they really need upgrades (Penhorn Lake Washroom, Halifax North Library)
- The Downtown Dartmouth Infrastructure Project won’t happen, meaning we’ll miss out on the generational opportunity to redevelop Dartmouth Cove, make the most of Phase 2 of the Sawmill Project, and connect the Harbour and Banook trail systems
This is a totally untenable list and, if it doesn’t change, it’s doubtful that I’ll be able to support the budget. Luckily, I’m not alone in my dismay. Thanks to a motion by Council Mason, Council opted to defer the capital budget until staff can return with a supplemental report setting out options for how the B list items can be funded for 2019/2020. The B list for 2019/2020 is significant, totaling just over $20 million. It’s a lot of money, but it’s a manageable total if Council is willing to draw on reserves, commit surplus funds, take on debt, or some combination of all three. The real challenge in the capital budget comes next year in 2020/2021 when B list items swell to $57 million. That’s a much bigger figure to come up with! Federal and provincial money through the infrastructure program may help out with some items, but the timing is uncertain. I favour Councillor Mason’s intent to fund 2019/2020 and then spend a lot of time later this year doing a deeper dive into all the projects on our multi-year list. Staff will return to Council with options for funding 2019/2020 in a few weeks.
Plastic Bags: In other returning items, the report on banning the distribution of plastic bags was back before Council. The staff recommendation was to pursue voluntary reductions in plastic use by cooperating with retailers, but Council’s Environment Standing Committee instead opted to recommend a ban. The decision for Council was whether to back the staff recommendation or that of our Environment Standing Committee.
Plastics are fast becoming a global problem. It’s estimated that HRM goes through 200 million plastic bags every single year. Some of those bags are reused for household tasks, but most of them end up being recycled. Recycling is better than the landfill, but it’s worth remembering that when it comes to waste, the best of the three Rs is, and always will be, Reduce. It’s true that there are competing claims as to whether paper bags are really better because of the trees, water, and energy that is used in manufacturing paper. For me though, that perspective misses the key difference: plastic isn’t biodegradable. A stray paper bag decomposes, but plastic just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. It takes 1,000s of years for plastic to truly breakdown, which is leading it to accumulate in our environment. There is truly horrifying research coming out about the growing plastic contamination in the world’s oceans. Some estimates of the scale of the problem indicate that by the 2050s there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. All those plastic particles work their way up the food chain eventually making their way onto our plates. This is a global problem and we all have a role to play in the solution.
So why not adopt the voluntary approach? The problem with a voluntary approach is that it creates opportunities for retailers to undermine joint efforts for competitive reasons. I remember when Superstore started charging $0.05 a bag in 2009, a policy that would have decreased bag usage. Superstore dropped the policy, however, in early 2010 when Sobeys didn’t follow suit with a bag fee. Sun Chips is another example. For a time, the chip company had a 100% compostable bag, but the bags were much more crinkly and people complained about the sound. The company quickly returned to plastic bags. You can achieve results with voluntary efforts, but voluntary will never be as all-encompassing as regulation. A number of places in Canada have responded to issues around plastics by banning them, including Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal, and Prince Edward Island. This seems to be where the world is heading.
The ideal outcome around bags would be a Province-wide approach like PEI’s. Unfortunately, despite Councillor Mancini and Councillor Mason’s hard work to find a consensus among Nova Scotia municipalities, the Province hasn’t been willing to adopt tougher rules. The Province has also continued to drag their feet on adopting extended producer responsibility. Producer responsibility is important because it makes companies financially responsible for the waste that results from their products.
In the absence of a Provincial approach, several of Nova Scotia’s large municipalities have agreed to cooperate on creating our own consistent bylaws. I suspect, if Council ultimately adopts a bag bylaw, this will likely follow the script of HRM’s Pesticide Bylaw: a controversial municipal bylaw, once accepted, eventually becomes Provincial policy. Council sided with the Environment Committee recommendation 13-4. Staff will return to Council with a draft bylaw at some point in 2019.
Bins: Very much related to the plastic bag debate was a motion I put forward to look at expanding HRM’s bin program beyond organics to include recycling and garbage. The spark that prompted me to ask Council to look at this was the number of people who wrote regarding the potential plastic bag ban who felt that HRM was being hyprocritcal in looking at banning plastic shopping bags while also requiring residents to purchase bags to dispose of recycling and garbage. I looked at Canada’s other big cities and was surprised to find that all of them, except Edmonton, have bin programs. We’re basically alone in having a bin for organics, but not for recycling and garbage.
|City||Blue Bin||Bags Required for Bin Materials||Black Bin||Bags Required for Bin Materials|
Most of the big Canadian cities with bins allow people to dispose of materials without bagging them. Paper seems to be a frequent exception along with some garbage items. So a bin program in HRM should be able to achieve the same result that it has elsewhere: the near elimination or at least a sharp reduction in the number of plastic bag needed for waste disposal. Besides reducing plastic use though, bins have other advantages. Most city’s with bins have automated pickup which means that there are labour savings. Instead of two workers per truck, only one is needed, and that one worker is able to get the job done quicker and with less risk of injury (being a garbage collector is a hard job). Bins can’t be torn up by crows, and they’re less likely to get blown around on windy days.
Bin programs aren’t perfect. The two main issues seem to be that they may increase the amount of garbage that is improperly disposed of since wayward items are less likely to be spotted by the garbage collector, and they have a substantial upfront cost. The cost piece is probably the main stumbling block. When this idea has come up in casual discussion at Council in the past, the ballpark figure for bins was around $12 million per set, which means that it would likely cost HRM over $20 million to buy blue and black bins. That’s a big number! It’s about 2/3 of the Sportsplex renovation.
While the financial number is big, what we need to keep in mind is what it really means out-of-pocket for the average resident? To answer that question you have to figure out what the cost of a bin program is in taxes relative to the annual cost that HRM currently imposes on households to buy bags. I did an informal survey on facebook and figures quoted ranged from over $60 for some households to as low as $10 for others. Most people seemed to be somewhere around $30. If HRM increased the tax bill on the average home by $30, HRM finance indicates that it would net the municipality around $15 million a year. By this very, very rough math, the payback period for a bin program for many residents could be as short as two years! Bins purchased elsewhere have had a 10 year warranty with an expected lifespan of 15-20 years. If HRM received similar terms, bins could payback the initial investment to residents in bag savings many times over. The payback would take longer than two years for more valuable properties and for people who don’t use many bags, but I suspect most households would end up saving money. The unknowns are what other costs HRM would incur in changing how waste materials are handled at the depots and what the cost to contractors would be to change the vehicle fleet.
A bin program could be one of those rare initiatives that could be good for the environment, make collection more efficient, deal with regular nuisances like crows, and actually put money back in people’s pockets. Council unanimously supported my motion and the Director of Transportation and Public Works indicted that TPW would try to bring a report back this year to coincide with the return of the plastic bag discussion. That report will focus on the financial arguments since that’s likely to be the main reason why Council might opt not to pursue a bin program. More detailed logistics can be sorted out from there if it’s something that Council decides to further explore.
United Avenue: HRM requires all streets, including private lanes, be given official names. This wasn’t always the case, however, and one private street in District 5 that’s been around for decades that has only recently been identified as needing a name is the road through the King’s Arm apartment development across from Mic Mac Mall. The apartment complex’s owner, Armour Group, suggested Noble Hill Lane, but when this came to Council, I sent Noble Hill back with a request that Armour consider a name that better reflects the history of the area instead.
Starting in the 1800s, the end of Crichton Avenue from about Glen Manor out towards the Circumferential Highway was an African Nova Scotia community. The first African Nova Scotian Baptist Church in the Province was founded by Richard Preston in 1844, just a short distance from the intersection of Crichton and Glen Manor. That’s why Crichton Avenue was once known as Coloured Meeting House Road. Crichton Avenue went through a few different names before becoming known as Crichton Avenue in 1894. It was after that the informal name for the African Nova Scotian community became “the Avenue.” At its peak in the 1950s, the Avenue was home to 23 families with a combined population of over 100. Overtime, the original families have almost all moved away and encroaching suburban development dramatically changed the neighbourhood. The King’s Arm property sits on the site of the community’s old church and when the land was being redeveloped in the 1970s, the old church cemetery was dug up and the skeletons were moved to the Christ Church Cemetery opposite the Victoria Road United Baptist Church in Downtown Dartmouth.
The history of the Avenue reveals a tale of institutional racism that was all too typical in Nova Scotia. Municipal services such as water, sewer, snow removal, and paving stopped at the last white family’s home on Crichton Avenue, objectionable facilities including the dump, incinerator, and stone crusher were located in the community, and sections of the Avenue were ultimately expropriated and demolished to build the Circumferential Highway. As Crichton Park, the highway system, and Mic Mac Mall were developed, the community slowly disappeared.
Given the length of time that the Avenue was a part of Dartmouth, and how it has slowly faded from memory, I wanted to see a name that acknowledged the history of this part of Dartmouth. I’m pleased to report that Armour Group wasn’t attached to Noble Hill Lane and after consultation between surviving Avenue community members and HRM, everyone has agreed to call the street “United Avenue.” United is a nod to the social change that has occurred overtime to bridge old divides and Avenue to acknowledge the area’s informal name. I also like that United Avenue alludes to the Victoria Road United Baptist Church where the bodies of many of the Avenue’s early residents now rest. HRM is currently looking at other commemorative options to reflect this history that is danger of being lost as the last of the Avenue’s residents that remember the community pass on.
For a deeper dive into the history of the Avenue, I would recommend former resident Adrienne Sehatzadeh’s Master Thesis, particularly chapters 3-7. You can browse Adrienne’s thesis online here.
Wetland Compensation Funding: A motion that I made a few months back to explore alternatives with the Province for funding innovative stormwater projects came back to Council and results seem promising. When wetlands are impacted by development, developers are required by the Province to create new habitat elsewhere or pay compensation to allow others to create new habitat. Most of the development pressure in Nova Scotia is in HRM, but most of the money collected, is spent elsewhere in the Province. This is mainly because completing projects in urban wetlands is usually much more complicated.
What has changed lately is that HRM is looking to get into more natural ways of managing stormwater, including the creation of artificial wetlands. HRM’s challenge is identifying projects and then finding ways to pay for them while also encouraging developers and other private landowners to follow suite. My idea was to make better use of wetland compensation funds that are already paid to the Province by many developers in HRM. Basically, let’s use money that already exists to enhance wetlands and create new ones in HRM. The ducks, salamandars, and muskrats don’t care if a wetland was created by Mother Nature or us, nor do they care if the wetland is doing double duty as stormwater infrastructure. What matters from an environmental standpoint is the quality of the habitat and health of the ecosystem. There is a great opportunity here to achieve several objectives at once. Conversations between HRM and Provincial staff went well and HRM will be developing a list of potential wetland projects that will then be provided to the Province. With any luck, we’ll end up with a few signature projects over the next few years.
- Scheduled public hearings for planning amendments to allow a church to be built in Goodwood, an existing hotel in Indian Harbour, and for multi-unit residential buildings on Chebucto Road and Dutch Village Road
- Renewed our contract to accept recycling from Chester for a fee
- Agreed to accept the statue of The Sailor in Sackville Landing as public art (Atlantic Chiefs and Petty Officers Association is winding up so HRM has to take on responsibility for it)
- Approved a flypast for the return of HMCS Ville De Quebec
- Submitted the Herring Cove Water project and the Peninsula Water Transmission Main Expansion and Upgrade to the Province as HRM’s preferred projects under Infrastructure Funding for the Environmental Quality Funding stream
- Directed staff to initiate a review of how the municipality relates to non-profit trail groups
- Approved the development of additional online resources on the municipal website for Point Pleasant Park
- Appointed Councillor Karstin as Chair for our 2019/2020 budget deliberations, citizen volunteers to Heritage Advisory Committee, and Councillors to Special Events Advisory Committee, Water Commission, Accessibilty Committee, and the Soild Waste-Resource Management Regional Chairs Committee
- Asked for staff reports into supporting the Home for Heroes project and on a vehicle immobilization bylaw (a boot bylaw)