Latest updates from HRM and District 5 as of April 4.
Situation around our Parks continues to be challenging and it’s looking like another nice weekend out there. All municipal parks in Nova Scotia were closed by the Province as part of the State of Emergency, but the Province made an exception for trails. This has created a lot of confusion. Rather than trying to figure out what’s closed, the assumption right now should be this: if it’s owned and tended to by government, it’s closed. Parks, playgrounds, school grounds, fields, etc. All closed. The exceptions are trails and HRM’s various short street-to-street walkways. If there is any doubt if it’s open or not, assume it’s closed.
HRM has over 900 parks, most of which have multiple entrances, and the municipality is short-staffed right now. It’s simply not possible to get out there to tape and sign everything. Staff have been working to physically close the more popular parks, but the job is being complicated by the fact that some people are removing tape and barriers, cutting locks, and climbing fences. Some people are genuinely not sure what’s open and what’s not, but others are just ignoring the rules. Police are now moving into ticketing mode.
For extra clarity, here’s what’s open in District 5:
Short street-to-street walkways that don’t go through parks, and that are just simple point-to-point routes to connect the street grid such as this one that joins Joffre Street to Mountain Ash Court.
Trails that are open:
- Harbour Trail from Alderney to Woodside Ferry Terminal, excluding Ferry Terminal Park where the Peace Pavilion and playground are.
- Dartmouth Multi-Use Trail/Banook Greenway along Prince Albert Road and then from Grahams Grove around to Brookdale Crescent. Birch Cove Park, Grahams Grove Park, and Findlay Park (the lock and playground) are closed as they’re more park spaces than trails. Basically, you can walk halfway around the lake. Grahams Grove is taped off, but you can proceed between the highway sign and guardrail to access the trail.
- Oathill Lake’s loop is open.
The intent for all three of the open trails is for local use only. If you’re driving to get to them, you’re going too far. Police are ticketing and towing vehicles that are left in parking lots at municipal parks. Everything else is closed. Playgrounds, fields, Dartmouth Common, Shubie, Sullivan’s Pond, Maynard Lake, Penhorn Lake, Victoria Park, Ferry Terminal Park, Grahams Grove, Northbrook Park, Cyril Smith Park, Brownlow, Silver’s Hill, all of them and any other greenspace I have forgotten. All closed. If in doubt, assume it’s closed.
Halifax Water has introduced additional measures to lessen the financial impact of Covid-19 on customers. The utility is allowing customers to defer bills from March 13 – July 31. No interest will be charged during the period, and there will be no disconnections. Halifax Water also has a fund for people who are facing economic hardship and are having trouble paying their bill. If you’re in need, you can reach out to discuss payment arrangements by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 902-420-9287.
I did get a few notes from people inquiring about Halifax Water’s planned September rate hike and if that will still proceed. I’m told Halifax Water is looking at options given how everything has changed so quickly and that none of us really know where we’ll be in September. There isn’t anything to share at this time and the utility hasn’t modified their application to the UARB. I will ask again in the future.
HRM has been looking at what we can do around property taxes since businesses are closed and many people have been given layoffs. At our first virtual Council meeting on Thursday, notice was given to modify the due date for taxes from April 30 to June 1. The intent here is to buy time. HRM can’t put off taxes forever though. Over 80% of municipal revenues come from property taxes and HRM isn’t allowed to run a deficit. No government budget is exactly like a household budget, but municipal budgets are closer than federal and provincial ones in the fact that municipalities can’t run deficits. The money going out has to match the money coming in.
I’m supportive of the planned deferral (I expect everyone on Council will be). In terms of more substantive aid, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities is engaging with the Province to try and develop a Province-wide approach to the challenge. Anything more than the short-term deferral will likely have to be focussed on those most in need, and will require Provincial support.
As part of the State of Emergency, the Province has authorized municipal Councils throughout the Province to meet virtually. As mentioned, HRM held its first meeting on Thursday. It was nice to talk about regular non-Covid-19 Council business for a few hours! I will write a Council blog shortly on what happened.
Council does plan to meet again virtually on the 9th, 14th, and 28th. The meetings will be live streamed and uploaded to the web. Apart from the power flickering at City Hall, the technology seemed to work well. Agenda and link for watching the upcoming meeting will be posted on the Council agenda page in advance here.
Letter to HRM Employees:
I was happy to sign an open letter this week to HRM’s employees thanking them for their work. I was heartened by my colleagues coming together to speak with one voice in response to irresponsible speculation about services and layoffs over the last few weeks. While none of us can say what the future holds given the unprecedented crisis that we’re in, please know that many municipal employees are still working either from home or in some form of modified duty. The work in many HRM sections is more important than ever. Below is the letter.
A heartfelt open letter to employees of the Halifax Regional Municipality:
These are stressful times. We know staff are working harder than ever at keeping Halifax running. You are keeping our residents informed, served and safe. We value you and your efforts and we are conscious of the impact on you and your families.
COVID-19 has changed the way we interact, changed our economy and is changing the way our municipality functions. It will take time to figure out what happens next, and we don’t know what changes are coming. We are aware of how this situation causes uncertainty to you and all of our colleagues.
It is very unfortunate some people are being irresponsible and causing you unnecessary fear and anxiety. Please do not listen to rumour and speculation, listen to the leaders who encourage you and provide hope – your managers, senior directors, the Mayor and Regional Council.
While we don’t know what the future holds, difficult decisions lie ahead. Our concern is always for the safety and security of you and your loved ones, and residents of HRM.
Keep up the great work and stay safe.
Mayor Savage, Halifax Regional Municipality
Councillor Steve Streatch, District 1
Councillor David Hendsbee, District 2
Councillor Bill Karsten, District 3
Councillor Lorelei Nicoll, District 4
Councillor Sam Austin, District 5
Councillor Tony Mancini, District 6
Councillor Waye Mason, District 7
Councillor Lindell Smith, District 8
Councillor Shawn Cleary, District 9
Councillor Russell Walker, District 10
Councillor Steve Adams, District 11
Councillor Richard Zurawski, District 12
Councillor Lisa Blackburn, District 14
Councillor Paul Russell, District 15
Councillor Tim Outhit, District 16
A reminder of the dos and don’ts.
- DO wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently
- DO call 811 to get a referral if you meet the criteria
- DO NOT go to your Doctor or the Emergency Room if you think you may have Covid-19
- DO NOT call 811 unless you meet the criteria. 811 can’t help us if they’re overwhelmed. Review the criteria before you call
- DO call the federal government’s special Covid-19 line 1-833-784-4397 if you have general questions about the virus
- DO self-isolate if you’ve travelled in the last 14 days.
- DO NOT hoard toilet paper, groceries, or other supplies. The empty store shelves are a society-induced event. There has been no disruption to supplies. Hoarding hurts the most vulnerable. Please think about what basic supplies you realistically need, not what you might need for the next several months.