Well time flies. This is my last newsletter for 2018. I wanted to take a moment to wish you the best for the holidays and the New Year from myself and my family. The New Year is always a good time to reflect, and looking back on 2018, we’ve achieved a lot together. Here are some of the highlights from my District 5 perspective:
- After a long, long delay the Downtown Dartmouth Plan Update has finally reached draft form (it started back in 2012) and there is a clear path forward for adoption in 2019.
- HRM reached the point where staff were able to share some of the planning work that’s been underway around Phase 2 of the Sawmill River project, the design of Portland/Alderney/Prince Albert, and how we can connect a redeveloped Dartmouth Cove into the rest of Downtown. Putting it altogether, we have a really transformational project in the works.
- Once again we held onto the extra ferry crew that was added to the Alderney run during the Big Lift. The hours for that extra crew were adjusted to make a user-friendly, all-day, 15 minute service.
- The Alderney Pedway was renovated and the result has turned what was primarily a walkway into a gathering space.
- New active transportation improvements and safer streets including (1) extended sidewalk on Sinclair (Berwick to the Viewing Stands), (2) a new sidewalk to serve Dartmouth South Academy on Clyde Street, (3) new multi-use trail to connect Mount Hope/Baker Drive to the Woodside Ferry Terminal, and (4) the return of the crosswalk by the tracks at Alderney Landing.
- A Palm Tree at Sullivan’s Pond? Who would have guessed!
- The Canal Greenway is finally a park again with the completion of the Marine Railway recreation, removal of the giant dirt pile by Irishtown Road, and sodding of the land.
- First tentative step to looking at the traffic and pedestrian issues on Ochterloney with the launch of the curb extension pilot at Ochterloney/Wentworth (project has already generated some good feedback that staff are evaluating).
- My work to try and get the Province and HRM to cooperate on redesigning the intersection of Lancaster/Woodland/Mic Mac Boulevard/Highway 118 reached the point of a motion at Council. Commitment from both governments to complete a design study by March 31, 2019.
- Second year of participatory budgeting and, despite a rainy night, people’s enthusiasm wasn’t diminished with over 400 votes cast to award just over half of District 5’s capital funds.
- Return of the Sullivan’s Pond Summer Concert Series thanks to the generous sponsorship of Weldon McInnis, the organizational expertise of Downtown Dartmouth, and a little help from the District 5 ad promo fund.
- First municipal parkland purchase in Birch Cove Blue Mountain.
- Cogswell Plan reached the 60% design mark and was roundly accepted by Council.
- Removal of the Cornwallis statue.
- Bus priority lanes on Gottingen Street to make transit more effective.
- Shared all the good, the bad and the ugly in my 12 newsletters and regular Council Updates.
Being your Councillor means some long hours, and there are days that are hard, but those challenges are more than made up for by the chance to make things better. It’s a pleasure to represent you at City Hall. Thank you for your continued faith in me and staying engaged through my newsletter. All the best for the season and in the year ahead.
Capital Budget 2019-2020: I wanted to take a moment to talk about the big challenge that’s looming for Council in the New Year. The coming 2019-2020 budget is going to be a tough one. HRM has very much limited tax increases over the last several years, but the municipality is facing some significant pressures. Half of HRM’s costs are wages and the salary bill, particularly for police and fire, is increasing at more than the rate of inflation. Throw in the price of fuel and it’s clear that HRM’s costs will increase significantly in 2019-2020. Adding to the mix is that the commercial market is still relatively weak due to a high-vacancy rates, meaning that HRM doesn’t have a lot of new money coming in.
To deal with the budget pressures, HRM is contemplating a residential tax increase of 1.9% – 2.9% just to maintain the basics (increase is based on the actual year-over-year change in the out-of-pocket bill for the average home). There are no easy calls here. We can either raise taxes to cover rising costs or we can scale-back on services. No one loves tax increases and they’re easy to dislike when the consequences are abstract. When the consequences become tangible though, such as fewer police and firefighters, reduced recreation programming, or scaled back road repairs, then what to do suddenly becomes a lot less clear cut for most people.
While there are challenges on the operational side, where things are particularly ugly is the draft three-year capital budget. The staff report has a list of “A” and “B” projects. The A list projects are ones that are built into the draft budget and that staff are recommending funding, while the B list projects are ones that staff would like to fund, but there isn’t money available. In other words, to fund any of the B list projects, Council will have to move other projects off the A list to free up cash, increase the tax rate even more, take on more debt, draw down savings, or some combination of all four options. We haven’t had the debate yet or had the chance to ask for more detail from staff. That will all come in the New Year. My initial reaction though, from looking at the B list items, is that Council is going to have to figure out a way to fund large parts of it. If we don’t, here’s what will happen over the next three years:
- 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 will not be finished.
- The Macdonald Bridge bike project, which is more than the high-profile ramp, won’t happen.
- 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 isn’t a good list of projects to have on the B list! When I scan through the A list though, it’s not immediately apparent what could be swapped out. Apart from some internal government software upgrades, the A list doesn’t appear to be extravagant. Council will be getting more detail on the A and B list items in the New Year, which might helps us identify some tweaks, but it appears that the fundamental problem is we simply don’t have enough capital dollars for our priorities. It’s going to be a hard discussion, but I can say that a budget that leaves out a good chunk of the stuff Council has been talking about, planning for, and has identified as priorities, isn’t a budget that I’ll be able to support. What we have so far is very much a draft and I expect a lot of debate and revisions. We’ll see where this goes in the New Year.
Main Street Transit Lane and Bus Stop: In happier news, the bus stop in front of Lawtons on Main Street that was removed last year is coming back. Transit removed the stop in front of Lawtons because of safety concerns around buses coming in and out of the pull-off in fast-moving traffic. Transit moved the stop down the hill a block, but the move has proven to be difficult for the many seniors who take the bus to get to the medical offices above Lawtons. What’s changed now is HRM is implementing transit priority on Main Street. The new transit priority signalling will mean left turns onto Gordon Avenue from Main Street will no longer be possible. Inbound traffic will have to turn left at Hartlen Road now instead. The transit priority measures will, however, speed up transit, and make it safe for buses to once again stop in front of Lawtons. Many thanks from folks in District 5 who were affected by the stops removal to area councillor Tony Mancini who doggedly pursued this issue.
Sportsplex: The wait has been long, but the return of the Sportsplex is just around the corner: February 2019! In preparation for the big reopening, the Sportsplex is offering a 20% discount on passes. The promotion applies to annual and one-month passes for families, adults, and senior/youth/student. The sale price is available December 3-23. Passes come in a holiday card format. They make good gifts! Passes can be purchased at the track desk during regular hours. Pricing is available here.
If you were a member of the Sportsplex up until the date it closed in May 2017, you will receive an email offer of 25% off a new membership by the end of December. The holiday sale and the past member promotions can’t be combined. For any questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESIA Bus Pass: In December 2017, Regional Council approved the initiation of a pilot program with the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to offer families who receive Employment Support or Income Assistance free access to transit. The pass is designed to be not easily identifiable as a Department of Community Services pass.
The first annual passes were issued in July 2018 and since then, 8,246 people have enrolled in the program, 1,100 of whom are youth. While the uptake is encouraging, the program has only reached half of the eligible participants. There is still a large number of people who haven’t registered. If you or someone you know is potentially eligible, they should contact their case worker or the Income Assistance Line at 1-877-424-1177.
Coming Here: Winter has arrived a bit earlier than usual this year and HRM’s Winter Operations have already been out clearing snow and salting streets and sidewalks on a few occasions. Clearing snow can be a tough job and it can be even tougher when parked vehicles block the streets. HRM’s overnight winter parking ban will be in place once again from December 15 to March 31. The ban will be enforced between 1 am and 6 am during declared storms. The easiest way to know when the parking ban will be enforced is to register online for notifications. Residents can also request registration by calling 311. Please note as well that Section 139 of the Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act allows HRM to ticket and tow any time, day or night, if your vehicle is interfering with snow clearing. Please think before you park.
2019 Volunteer Award Nominations: Applications for the 2019 Volunteer Awards are now open! This is your chance to provide some well-earned recognition to one of the many amazing volunteers and organizations who makes our community a wonderful place to live. The deadline for applications is December 17, 2018. Recipients will be announced during National Volunteer Week in April. To complete a nomination visit the volunteer awards portion of HRM’s website here. You can submit a nomination by email or drop off a completed form at the Findlay Community Centre.
Urban Forest Video: Ever wonder why HRM plants trees under power lines? Just what benefits do trees provide that make all the effort of maintaining them worth it? Well wonder no more. HRM has prepared a short video on urban forestry and all the things that trees provide for us.
Seasonal Safety Tips from Halifax Regional Police: Halifax Regional Police (HRP) are encouraging everyone to take precautions during the holiday shopping season. HRP has noted an increase in thefts from vehicles across HRM. Thefts from vehicles are usually crimes of opportunity and can be discouraged by:
- Always locking your vehicle.
- Parking in well-lit, well-travelled areas.
- Keeping packages out of sight.
- Removing all valuables such as purses and wallets, laptops, GPS devices and other electronics, and keep your vehicle free from clutter. Something as simple as an empty shopping bag can create the appearance that there’s something in your car worth stealing.
Anyone who sees suspicious persons or activities near a vehicle is asked to call the police non-emergency line at (902)490-5020. I know a lot of vehicle theft goes unreported because thieves often don’t get very much from any one car (often as little as some spare change). If someone does riffle through your car, HRP would still like to know about it though because how they deploy their resources does depend on what’s reported! They can’t take proactive action if they don’t know what’s going on. It’s always better to report, even if what you’ve lost is minor, and it seems like the odds of the police catching someone or getting your stuff back is low.
To keep you better informed about what is going on at Council, I’m writing a regular blog after each meeting. Each of my entries is about what I saw as noteworthy from a District 5 perspective and my views on the issues. We might not always agree, but I think it’s important to provide a record of how I voted and why.
Council Update December 12
Fire department review, third-party capital requests come in threes (Hospice, Y, Culture Link), and timelines for the All Ages and Abilities Bike Network. Read about it here
Council Update November 27
The start of the 2019-2018 budget deliberations, side guards on garbage trucks, industrial uses in the Woodside Industrial Park, Silver’s Hill Park name, and the Purcells Cove Bus. Read about it here
Light on events in this edition (most of the holiday community stuff has already occurred).
Christmas Cheer & Song at Evergreen House
Dartmouth Heritage Museum, 26 Newcastle Street
Saturday, December 15, 1:00-4:00 pm
Admission by suggested donation of $10
You’re invited to join the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society on Saturday, December 15 for the Society’s annual Christmas Cheer and Song event. Between 1:00-4:00 pm they’ll be all ages craftmaking, hot apple cider and cookies (while supplies last). Guests will be treated to beautiful carols from popular duo Acacia (Gail Fulop and Wayne Slaunwhite) from 1:00-2:30 pm. The winning ticket for the Tom Forrestall Art raffle will also be drawn. For more information, visit the Museum’s website here.
Winter Concert by Wyndrock Quintet
Wednesday, December 19, 7:00-8:00 pm
Alderney Gate Library
The popular Wyndrock Quintet returns to Alderney to offer a holiday concert featuring a musical feast of wind quintet selections and pieces with pianist, Brenda Joyce.
Farrell Benevolent Society 10th Annual Christmas Social
Thursday, December 20, 5:30 pm
Farrell Hall, 276 Windmill Road
Come join the Farrell Benevolent Society to celebrate the season. Refreshments, Christmas music, and gifts
Reel Family Movie Night – The Polar Express
Thursday, December 20, 6:00-9:00 pm
Alderney Landing Theatre, 2 Ochterloney Street
Free family movie night at Alderney presented by Scotiabank featuring “The Polar Express.” Kids wear you PJ’s and don’t forget to bring your blanket and pillow to get cozy. Santa will be around from 6pm – 6:45pm, with the movie getting started at 7 pm. This is the second in a series of four community movies at Alderney. Stay tuned for the January and February announcements. Your Free golden ticket can be picked up at Scotiabank on Portland Street, Strange Adventures Portland Street, Buy Local Dartmouth Portland Street, and at the Alderney Landing Box Office starting Monday, December 10.
New Years City Hall
December 31 – January 1
City Hall, Halifax
Ring in the New Year with outdoor entertainment in Grand Parade. Fireworks and a free outdoor concert featuring performances by Said the Whale, and Zaki Ibrahim. If you’re not too tired, you can return to City Hall in the morning on New Years Day for the annual New Years Levee.