Agenda March 22
Sawmill River Funding Request
The Sawmill River project was on Council’s agenda again, specifically a potential opportunity to lessen the cost to HRM of Phase 2. The opportunity is the federal-provincial infrastructure program. The Province has issued a request to Nova Scotia’s municipalities to submit projects under the program’s Green Environmental Quality stream. HRM and Halifax Water are each allowed to submit two projects, which are:
- Cole Harbour Road flood mitigation (HRM), $3,600,000
- Highway 101 landfill gas system (HRM), $500,000
- Sawmill River Daylighting Phase 2 (Halifax Water), $15,500,000
- Lake Major pumping station renewal (Halifax Water), $17,300,000
If the Province approves the submissions, the potential savings to HRM and Halifax Water will be considerable. HRM and Halifax Water would only need to come up with $9,841,230 (26.7% of project costs) instead of the $36,900,000 that we would otherwise be entirely on the hook for. Hopefully the Province will approve.
Staff’s regular asset naming report was before Council to make some new additions to HRM’s list of potential street and asset names. This report was a bit different though than usual. Included in the list of worthy commemorative names was 12 Mi’kmaq words. The 12 Mi’kmaq words that have been added to HRM’s names list are:
|Skokomul||New wooden boat|
|Wasoqiman||Red ground berries|
The addition of Mi’kmaq names is coming out of the recommendations from the Cornwallis Taskforce to improve the diversity of HRM’s street and asset names by including Mi’kmaq words. The addition of these 12 is a start towards making good on that recommendation.
You might recall that I put out a call for suggestions for names for new streets in Dartmouth Cove in my May 2020 e-newsletter. Staff and I received a number of replies, many of which came from people who, didn’t have a specific name to suggest, but who wanted to see a Mi’kmaq street name in Dartmouth Cove. I’m happy to share that, of the 12 Mi’kmaq words added to the naming list, Patuo’qn (driftwood) and Skokomul (new wooden boat) will be used in Dartmouth Cove. I’m pleased that Downtown Dartmouth will make a small contribution towards reconciliation in its street names. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions.
Virtual Meetings Beyond COVID
Council switched to virtual meetings for much of 2020 and 2021 due to COVID. Like many people, we became quite familiar with Zoom! Meeting virtually was enabled by the Province’s State of Emergency declaration and, before the State of Emergency was lifted, the Province amended the HRM Charter and the Municipal Government Act to allow municipalities in Nova Scotia to continue holding virtual meetings. This makes sense as there are times when a virtual meeting would be preferable.
With provincial legislation in place, Council approved updates to our procedures of Council bylaw (Administrative Order 1) to enable virtual meetings. There are still, however, two big barriers to the wider used of virtual meetings: (1) technical limitations and (2) limitations in what the Province has allowed in legislation.
The technical issue for HRM is none of Council’s meeting spaces are properly setup for virtual meetings. The Council chamber comes the closest, but even there some equipment upgrades are necessary. Other spaces, like the Harbour East Community Council room at Alderney, have no equipment for broadcasting at all. Installing the needed technology is going to take a while because the whole world is ordering the same stuff at the same time and HRM is facing delays in the supply chain. This will eventually be sorted out, but it will take time.
The second issue with virtual meetings is a bit more significant. When the Province amended the Charter to allow for virtual meetings, they included a requirement that meeting participants must be both heard and seen. The requirement to be seen didn’t exist during the state of emergency and will make meeting virtually a challenge. The virtual public hearings HRM held during the state of emergency often included people who joined by phone without video. Members of the public also often ran into technical challenges that included being unable to turn on video, and sometimes having to turn off video to eliminate lag in their internet connection. As a result, the seen requirement really makes virtual meetings that involve the general public in a significant way unworkable. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the state of people’s capacity, technology, and internet connections in 2022 Nova Scotia.
So don’t hold your breath on being able to dial into a virtual Council meeting. It’s not likely workable until either the Province relaxes the rules or technology improves. HRM’s use of virtual meetings will, instead, likely be limited to short meetings that don’t have a lot of public interest, maybe some committees, or, when the technology allows, a hybrid format where a Councillor that might be away can attend virtually instead of missing the meeting altogether. It would be nice if the Province was more flexible about the seen requirement, but I can also understand why they felt it was necessary to include it.
Council approved a staff report request on what the cost would be of raising the wages of all employees to $15/hr in the 2023/2024 fiscal year and raising that further to a living wage by 2024/2025. A living wage is different than the legal minimum wage. A living wage is the wage needed for a family of four, with both parents working, to earn enough to live comfortably in their community. A living wage, therefore, varies by location depending on the cost of living. In HRM, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has calculated it at $22/hour.
In 2020, HRM adopted a living wage policy that applies to most of HRM’s contractors. The policy, however, didn’t include HRM staff or staff in all of HRM’s facilities. Most of HRM’s staff make a living wage, but that’s not true of everyone. There are part-time and seasonal staff, including students and crossing guards, who are paid less than a living wage. There are also staff who aren’t direct employees of HRM, but who work in HRM owned facilities like community run recreation facilities (Sportsplex, Cole Harbour Place, Canada Games Centre etc) and libraries who are also underpaid. The report Council requested will look at all staff who work at HRM facilities.
For my part, I support paying a living wage. Saving a few bucks at the expense of pushing people into poverty isn’t a savings at all and I enthusiastically supported HRM’s living wage policy back in 2020. Making sure that all of HRM’s staff are also fairly paid is also something we have to do and figuring out what the financial implications will be is the first step in doing that.
- Rescinded a motion at Councillor Kent’s request from her predecessor, Councillor Karstin, to look at turning off the train whistles at Hines Road by Shearwater
- Approved a substantial redevelopment of the Waverley Inn on Barrington Street
- Increased the consultants contract for interior renovations at the Dartmouth North and Keshen Goodman Libraries
- First reading for the new commercial development district bylaw to allow assessment averaging
- Approved temporary borrowing for the spring (borrowing until the year’s taxes come in)
- Amended the capital budget to allocate money towards retrofitting HRM buildings
- Deferred discussion on HRM’s new Economic Strategy
- Directed the CAO to develop diveristy, equity, inclusion and accessibility guidelines to apply to all staff reports
- Scheduled a public hearing to consider rezoning 7 McIntosh Street in Spryfield
- Scheduled a heritage hearing to consider registering the famous Rocking Stone in Kidston Lake Park
- Requested a staff report on expanding the boundaries for Access-a-Bus service (Access-a-Bus service currently follows the transit service boundaries)
- Requested a staff report on providing a $50,000 contribution towards humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine
- Requested a staff report on a grant to the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia to help the Trust purchase a portfolio of affordable buildings