Disc Golf in North Woodside:
You might remember discussions at Harbour East Council in 2019 about a potential disc golf course adjacent to the North Woodside Community Centre on Pleasant Street. The proposal from Maritime Disc Golf was to construct a 9 hole course in the unused wooded area between the Community Centre and the Reigh Allen Centre. I personally liked the idea. It had several things going for it:
- Disc golf is a very inclusive sport that really almost anyone can play
- Locating the course next to the Community Centre would open up potential synergies in programming and sharing facilities
- There is just one other disc golf course in HRM, which would give the North Woodside area something unique
- The land is underused despite being along the Harbour Trail, on transit, and next to the Community Centre
- Disc golf doesn’t require wholescale clearing like a traditional golf course. It treads lightly on the land and the course could have doubled as walking trails when not in use by disc players
- It would have cleaned up the space and added people to it, helping to address security concerns about the area
Unfortunately, staff weren’t as enthusiastic. The report before Council was definitely not a yes, but it wasn’t quite a no either. Staff recommended that before HRM makes a large investment in a disc golf course, that the municipality first gauge potential interest through Parks and Recreation programming and through attendance numbers at the privately-owned disc golf course in Hammonds Plains. Depending on how that assessment goes, it’s possible that the idea of a course in North Woodside might resurface in the future, but it’s also quite possible that a future HRM course could end up located elsewhere. The one big downside to North Woodside as a disc golf venue is there isn’t enough space for a full 18 basket course, the space only has enough room for half that.
I get where staff are coming from, but part of me was disappointed in the outcome as this chunk of land in North Woodside is really underused. The disc golf proposal felt like an opportunity to change that. In the absence of a disc golf project, this space will likely continue to sit for some future purpose. I intend to follow up with parks planning staff to see if there might be an opportunity down the line to do some parks planning and community engagement around this park space. I’m not sure when that might be something HRM can take on though as the demand for park plans is high. There are more places in need of planning than there are staff, which makes the process of picking and choosing where HRM focuses its energy challenging. Hopefully they’ll be an opportunity to look at this space again in the next few years.
Commercial Tax Reform:
Council has directed staff to proceed with averaging commercial assessments to smooth out extreme spikes in valuations. The idea is to phase in big changes in commercial assessment over a three-year period to give businesses time to adjust and plan for an increasing bill. While this will help out businesses that are seeing big spikes, there will be a cost to everyone else because, when it comes to taxation, it really is a zero-sum game! When someone pays less, someone else has to pay more to make up the difference. The averaging program will mean that businesses with above average increases (increases that are more than 5% greater than the average increase for a given) will pay less, while everyone else will pay slightly more.
HRM has consulted fairly broadly with the business community and there is support for averaging. HRM is hoping to have averaging in place for 2022, but it will require a Regional Plan amendment and the successful installation of new software for managing HRM’s taxes. Hopefully we’ll be able to stick to the timeline as commercial taxation has been under discussion now for a long time.
While averaging assessments is a good start to reforming commercial taxation, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. HRM is still looking to change the actual structure to reduce taxes in areas where we want to incentivize growth and in places where there are a lot of small, independent businesses. The proposal that Council is considering is a zone system in which there would be different rates for different geographic areas. The idea is to raise rates on Big Box developments so that we can lower them in places like Downtown Dartmouth or Cole Harbour Road where there are large concentrations of local entrepreneurs. I wrote about the potential new commercial tax system and what Council is trying to achieve when it was before us in June 2019. You can read about it here.
Staff will return to Council in the fall with more information on the potential new zone system for Council to consider.
HRM has adopted a new Accessibility Strategy. The Strategy will guide multi-year budgeting and planning for accessibility improvements. The Strategy comes out of Nova Scotia’s relatively new Accessibility Act. The 2017 Act sets a goal of an accessible Nova Scotia by 2030.
HRM has already made significant strides in many areas including making the transit fleet 100% accessible, making tactile plates standard at intersections, enhanced inclusionary support in recreation programming, and improving accessibility in HRM buildings. There is still more to do though to meet the Act’s 2030 goal.
HRM’s new Strategy includes over 30 action items to be completed over the next nine years. The Strategy includes accessible upgrades that you would expect around building design and public spaces, but it also includes changes in the workplace to try and make HRM a more diverse and welcoming employer, improvements in how HRM communicates information, enhanced recreation services, increasing the fleet of accessible taxis, and improving Access-A-Bus. For a complete listing of actions, check out page 27 of the strategy here.
The Accessibility Strategy will have long-term cost impacts on HRM, but with 30% of Nova Scotian’s identifying as having a disability of some sort, there is a broad need to do better.
For the second year in a row, Council has voted to freeze our salaries. It’s never easy for Council to discuss our pay. There is no other job where you have to publicly justify your worth! To try and get ourselves out of that awkward conversation and make salaries something that aren’t set by Council directly, HRM has adopted a pay formula. The current formula was adopted in 2017 and is based on the average weekly wage in Nova Scotia as reported by Statistics Canada each October. The idea is to tie Council’s salaries to what people in Nova Scotia are making. That makes sense to me and I supported the change in 2017.
Last year, with the pandemic having a major impact on HRM’s finances, Council suspended the formula for one year to freeze salaries. We didn’t know if the formula would have spit out a raise (looking at Octobers statistics, it would have!), but we didn’t want to chance it as having Council salaries rise while HRM was facing a tough financial situation and when many people had lost their jobs wouldn’t have been appropriate. Since the pandemic is still with us, Council opted to extend the freeze again until 2022. I suspect we will reinstate the salary formula next year as the pandemic, hopefully, recedes into history.
- Adopted changes to the Regional Plan and the Cole Harbour/Westphal Plan to allow for redevelopment of the former Home for Colored Children
- Approved an increase in the contract value for the firm handling engineering for the next phase of Burnside’s development
- Accepted the background study for the future Downtown Halifax Heritage Conservation District
- Directed staff to complete planning for a crossing of Highway 101 from Sackville Manor
- Supported the naming of an unnamed island near Prospect, as Christian Isle after a local family
- Increased the budget for the Spring Garden Streetscaping project
- Second reading (approval) for changes to the User Fee Bylaw to enable a high school student pass program with HRCE and CSAP
- Adjusted the Administrative Order on permit fees to reflect changes in how HRM measures the condition of existing pavement
- Awarded a contract for the rehabilitation of the Harbour East All-Weather field
- Discharged a development agreement for 1568 Hollis Street
- Authorized staff to enter into a Bonus Zoning Agreement for 1724, 1730, and 1740 Granville Street (heritage restoration in a new development)
- First reading for changes to the Taxi Bylaw to establish a dedicated appeals body made up of legal experts in administrative law. This will replace the current process of appeals of licensing decisions being heard by Council’s Appeals Committee
- Amended the terms of reference for the Women’s Advisory Committee to require spots be reserved on the Committee for women from racialized communities
- Approved the functional plan for a redesigned Herring Cove Road
- Scheduled heritage hearings to consider registering 2381 Moran Street, 2224 and Maitland Street (Halifax)
- Requested staff reports on acquiring land in Portobello for a new turnaround for Route 55, on HRM contributing financially to the 2022 World Sailing Championships being held in St. Margarets Bay, on expanding grants for affordable housing to areas beyond the Regional Centre, and an increase in the approved grant for the Halifax TARS Rugby Club