Council Update: Museum, Budget 2022

Agenda April 12
Agenda April 12 (budget)
Agenda April 5

Museum Strategy
A report I have been long awaiting was before Council: the museum strategy. First, some background. The City of Dartmouth created a municipal museum as a centennial project back in 1967. The museum was part of Dartmouth for decades, but a few years after amalgamation the museum’s Wyse Road and Thistle Street location was condemned. All the artifacts were put into storage in a warehouse in Burnside in 2004 and the old building was torn down. Some of the artifacts are displayed at Evergreen House on Newcastle Street, but Evergreen House is a period home. The Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society does their best with Evergreen, but it was never meant to be an exhibition space and most of the collection remains in storage. There needs to be a home for the Dartmouth collection.

Over the last 18 years some work on a museum has been undertaken. The big effort was to organize and properly catalogue the collection. There was also an assessment as to whether old City Hall could be used as a new museum, but the building was found to be unsuitable and was sold instead. Funds from the sale of Old City Hall were set aside for a new museum and Council directed that a new museum would be located in Downtown Dartmouth. The money from the old City Hall sale and clear direction to locate the new museum in Dartmouth were helpful steps, but they don’t take the place of an actual plan for a new institution. In the nearly 20 years since Dartmouth lost its museum there has never been any real concrete planning undertaken for a new museum, until now.

Before Council on April 12 was Phase 1 of the museum strategy. The Phase 1 report gathers background on all the various museums in HRM and indicates that there are gaps in interpretation. The existing community museums lack resources and don’t cover all of our Region’s significant stories. There is also a lack of collaboration and coordination. The report identifies the need for a new museum and identifies several models for how a new regional museum could operate. It recommends that HRM proceed to analyze those options in Phase 2 of the museum strategy. Council accepted the recommendation.

What will happen next in Phase 2 is an in-depth analysis of five scenarios:

  • Status quo
  • Regional museum network with HRM providing much more direct support and assistance to existing museums
  • Regional museum network with external delivery with HRM financial support rather than direct involvement
  • New stand-alone civic museum operated directly by HRM with potential integration with the municipal archives
  • New stand-alone civic museum operated independently with HRM support

For me, either a museum network or a new civic museum can work for Dartmouth. In the network scenarios, we would still need a new facility for the Dartmouth collection, perhaps located near Evergreen House. If Council were to opt for a new stand-alone civic museum, that would be a much bigger facility as it would need to cover other stories that are currently not being told as well as provide a home for the Dartmouth collection. In either case, a new museum would be located in Downtown Dartmouth.

Phase 2 work is getting underway this year and will be completed in the 2023/2024 fiscal year. Staff are planning to include public engagement as part of the process. If Council proceeds beyond Phase 2, Phase 3 would involve detailed planning to actually implement whatever museum model is selected in Phase 2.

With all this planning work to do, a new museum is still several years away. That’s not a surprise as major public projects don’t emerge out of thin air. They take years of planning (Central Library, Sportsplex renovation, Halifax Forum etc). I served on the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society board before joining Council and it’s frustrating that a new museum is still a ways off. On the other hand though, something has now happened that has never been in place since the original museum closed: there is actually a clear plan for how HRM is going to analyze a museum project and make a decision about a new facility. I look forward to seeing planning for a new museum continue to develop over the next year and half.

Budget 2022
Council has approved the 2022 budget. The budget includes an increase in the tax bill (combined impact of gains in assessment and the tax rate) of 4.6%. 3.0% is a new climate action tax while the remaining 1.6% will be used to address HRM’s other cost pressures including rising fuel, the end of federal COVID programs, provincial road transfers, etc. Since assessments have grown so significantly, the actual residential tax rate will decline this year, but HRM always speaks in terms of the out-of-pocket bill rather than the rate, hence the 4.6%. Councillor Mason has a good explanation of this on his website here.

Climate Change Tax
There has been a lot of discussion about the 3.0% climate action tax and it’s something I strongly support. Our civilization has hit the snooze button too many times on this issue and the world’s scientists are very much telling us we’re running out of time to avoid the worst impacts. The warnings are getting more and more urgent and dire. It’s true that we’re not going to solve climate change in HRM, but the problem is everyone on this planet in every city, province, and country can reach the same conclusion and, if we all do nothing, we’re in for a world of hurt. All we can do is do our share and hope the rest of the world does likewise. That’s not a great spot to be, but it’s all we’ve got. The HRM tax will go to fund initiatives like the first phase of switching to electric buses, the EV vehicle strategy, deep energy retrofits of municipal buildings, and protecting vulnerable infrastructure.

District 5
So what’s in the budget for District 5 specifically?

  • Sawmill River/Dartmouth Cove The biggest item in District 5 by far is the next phase of work on the Sawmill River. Work this year involves an extension of Dundas Street to create a new intersection with Alderney Drive and then a bridge across the Canal into Dartmouth Cove. The extension of Dundas Street will help facilitate redevelopment by improving access into Dartmouth Cove and connecting it to the rest of Downtown Dartmouth. Half of the project will be paid for by property owners in Dartmouth Cove when they redevelop their properties. The funding for this project has been allocated, but based on the complexity, this could be a project that gets tendered this year, but doesn’t break ground until spring 2023. We’ll have to see how the tender process unfolds.
  • Harbour Trail: The last gap in the Harbour Trail, the unfinished section from Parker Street to Old Ferry Road, is in this year’s budget. This has been a complex section to negotiate as the land needed is partly owned by Killam and partly owned by CN and part of the property was licensed to Develop Nova Scotia as owners of the former Coast Guard Base. Throw in a failing retaining wall that needs to be repaired and all the circumstances for a lengthy real estate process were in place. I remember asking about this section early after I was elected and staff told me that more time would be spent negotiating this section than on any other piece of the trail! That long process is almost done now and staff have put this trail in the budget, but there is still some risk that this might end up being a 2023 item rather than a 2022 project. It all depends on concluding the real estate deal with CN.
  • Crosswalk Upgrades: HRM has completed an assessment of all the municipality’s basic crosswalks (crosswalks with paint and a sign, but no lights) to prioritize upgrades. The result is staff have identified over 70 crosswalks to upgrade to rapid flashing beacons. This is an important program that needs to be treated as an urgent road safety priority. I was able to successfully convince Council to double the planned funding to complete the upgrades over the next three years rather than the next five or six. Thanks to the additional funds, Portland/Maitland, Prince Albert/Elliot, Wyse /Symonds, and Albro Lake/Leaman will be upgraded this year.
  • Traffic Calming: Several District 5 streets have made it to the top of the traffic calming list this year. As part of work to continue prioritizing school zones, the rest of Hawthorne and Elliot will receive traffic calming, as will Lyngby Avenue in Crichton Park. HRM will also be adding an additional speed table to Joffre Street as part of paving work.
  • Paving: The big paving road projects this year include Lyngby Avenue, Pinehill Road, Frederick Street, Joffre Street (Sinclair to Tremont) and a small section of Milverton Road near the intersection with Prince Arthur Avenue.
  • Tactical Projects: HRM is doing more and more road redesigns as part of paving projects. The reason to combined redesign with paving work is to maximize our limited dollars. The most cost-effective time to change a street’s layout is when it’s getting torn up anyway because the paving has worn out. Unfortuantely, where the paving is failing and where we need to change our street design don’t always line up. The solution is to deploy inexpensive temporary fixes, which is where HRM’s Tactical Urbanism program comes in. This year, HRM will be looking at potential tactical projects at the intersection of Octherloney and Crichton, and on Slayter Street. More details to come on those items.
  • Portland Street Brickwork: Getting the failing brickwork on Portland Street fixed has been a personal mission of mine for several budget cycles now. The issue is that when streetscaping was built, there was no maintenance plan for any of it. If you have no plan for upkeep, it doesn’t take long for things to deteriorate. HRM’s fantastic in-house staff in road operations have been able to fix portions of the failing brickwork on Portland Street, but there simply hasn’t been enough of them to get it all done. This year staff are committing that this time it will finally all get fixed. We’ll still have the issue of what to do with the declining condition of the planters (something for me to go after in future budgets), but at least the bricks will be done. Very much looking forward to having this item crossed off the list.
  • Newcastle Playground: The playground across from the Maplehurst Apartments on Newcastle Street is at the end of its life and will be replaced this year. The tender has already been awarded and work should be getting underway shortly.
  • Albro Lake Beach Shade Structure: Councillor Mancini and I have dedicated a portion of the District 5 and 6 capital funds to create a new shade structure at Albro Lake Beack. The Beach doesn’t have any mature trees right now (just saplings) and the idea is to provide some shade from the summer sun. The tender for this project has been issued, but not yet awarded.
  • Findlay Community Centre: This year’s budget has money for work at the Findlay Community Centre. The roof and exterior walls are a priority, but the piece that will be noticed the most are the planned repairs to the pottery studio. The pottery studio has been closed since COVID and hasn’t reopened because of deficiencies with the space. Issues include electrical, the floors, and air exchange. HRM intends to complete work on the studio early this year so that pottery classes can be back up and running in the fall.
  • COVID Recovery: To bring people back Downtown, HRM will once again be running a summer concert series at Ferry Terminal Park during the summer months. Come and enjoy some free tunes on the weekends this summer! Over the summer, HRM will also be offering free transit on both buses and ferries on Friday and free trips on the Alderney ferry on Saturdays. HRM has also waived patio fees for businesses again and will be offering a parking ticket validation program in which fines can be forgiven if you can provide proof of frequenting a local business on the trip. More details on that initiative to come.
  • Carryover Work: Last year was a very busy year in District 5 and not everything that got underway finished and not everything that was funded in the 2021 budget started. Carryover projects include the Northbrook Park Plan, Shirley’s Splashpad on the Dartmouth Common, the new building at Grahams Grove, Silver’s Hill, Alderney Gate lobby renovations, and the Flower Streets complete streets project. For details on these items, check out my budget video from last year here (2022 budget video to come)

Other

  • Adopted a new five year economic plan prepared by the Halifax Partnership
  • Increased contract budgets for Fort Needham washrooms, and Lucasville Bridge design,
  • Approved permanent encroachment agreements for two commercial signs
  • Completed minor amendments to the community council administrative order to reflect Centre Plan changes to the design advisory committee
  • Directed staff to request the Halifax Waste Resource Society work with HRM to modernize the Otter Lake Community Monitoring Agreement to correct administrative and governance issues identified in HRM’s review
  • Assigned tire contract from GCR Tires to Kal Tire (one company bought the other)
  • First reading for changes to tax deferral bylaw
  • Extended the time for phase 1 of the district boundary review process
  • Requested the CAO develop a formal operational and capital budget review and approval process for the Halifax Regional Police budget that will include public feedback
  • Approved a less than market lease with the Back to the Sea Society for their small boathouse at Lion’s Beach on Lake Banook
  • Approved the 2022/2023 heritage grants, which included a few District 5 properties (First Baptist Church on Ochterloney, 15 Pine Street
  • Requested a few staff reports: (1) incorporating results of the wildlife corridor landscape design charrette into the Green Network Plan (2) mitigating disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and children (3) a potential community benefit program for areas arounds Otter Lake, and (4) revising the area rate budget approval process to align more closely with HRM’s budget timelines

2 Comments

  1. “The budget includes an increase in the tax bill (combined impact of gains in assessment and the tax rate) of 4.6%. 3.0% is a new climate action tax while the remaining 2.6% will be used to address HRM’s other cost pressures including rising fuel, the end of federal COVID programs, provincial road transfers, etc.”

    Please explain how 3% + 2.6% = 4.6%. The Waye Mason explanation you recommend throws no light on this math.

    Out of curiosity, what programmes no longer covered by federal COVID $$$ are HRM homeowners now obliged to pick up the tab for?

    Finally, please clarify: as the cost of electrifying the road transit service, in addition to expanding and electrifying the ferry service, escalates in coming years — noting that the current eye-watering cost estimate is at best an educated guess — is it Council’s intent to re-visit the Climate Action Tax to cover the shortfall?

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