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Looking for a hand from the other levels of government, Halifax regional councillors approved a list of $70 million worth of “shovel-ready” projects on Friday hoping to cash in on infrastructure funding.
Council’s budget committee is in the middle of rebuilding the city’s 2020-2021 budget due to significant revenue losses from COVID-19. The total lost revenue is estimated at $85.4 million this year, and there’s an expected cash flow gap from late property tax payments of up to $188 million.
To help offset the losses, the city is hoping to tap into provincial and federal funding, according to a staff report tabled at the virtual budget committee meeting on Friday.
The city already has a list of projects submitted for regular federal funding, but it’s hoping the provincial government will create a new fund. The report, written by chief financial officer Jane Fraser, said:
HRM has been in conversations with the Province of Nova Scotia officials, mainly through the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, about the potential for increased infrastructure funding. Preliminary discussions have indicated that there may be an opportunity for a new or modified infrastructure program for shovel ready projects in order to stimulate the economy. The thought is the program would be similar to the stimulus program that was launched by the Federal Government in response to the economic crash of 2008/09.
Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told councillors the province has actually asked for a list.
“The fact that we’ve been asked to submit a list is a good sign to the extent that I’m sure they want to make decisions soon,” Dubé said.
“We need to get the economy moving.”
The report also said the federal government might be willing to relax some of its rules for existing infrastructure funding.
City staff put together a list of projects in either the design or tendering phase — “excellent candidates for stimulus funding.” Some of them are on this year’s proposed capital budget while others are unbudgeted.
The report said the money could be used to complete more of the city’s capital projects:
Any cost sharing that is received for projects will help alleviate HRM’s capital budget pressure. Typically, projects are cost shared on a one third basis. The HRM projects total approximately $70 million, cost sharing by both orders of government could result in an additional $46 M in funding that could be redirected to other capital projects on the three-year capital plan.
Some of the priciest items on the $60.3 million list of regular HRM projects (total project cost):
- Ragged Lake Transit Centre Expansion — $10 million
- Central Library Emergency Generator — $1.5 million
- Wharf Recapitalization — $2.8 million
- Woodside Ferry Terminal Upgrade — $7 million
- Broad Street Roundabout — $1.2 million
- Bayers Road bus lanes — $3.6 million
- Robie and Young streets bus lanes — $3.8 million
- Paving — $2.6 million
The city also plans to submit a list of green projects under its new climate change plan.
“These projects address climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and significantly lower operating costs,” the staff report said.
Some of the big-ticket items on that $9 million list (total project cost):
- Ventilation and solar at the Ragged Lake transit depot — $2.8 million
- HVAC and refrigeration upgrades at the former Metro Centre — $2.2 million
- “New Fire Station HQ Heat Piping from BMO Centre” — $900,000
The full list of those projects would result in energy and fuel savings of more than $1 million annually.
Aside from the $70 million in municipal projects, there is a list of $23 million worth of Halifax Water projects being submitted, including $8.2 million for the replacement of the Cowie Hill water reservoir and $14.8 million for the second phase of the Sullivan’s Pond storm sewer replacement.
The staff report said another report is coming with a request for funding for electric buses and rapid transit.
Councillors asked a handful of questions about the list but made no changes. The Friday afternoon meeting lasted less than an hour.
Council’s budget committee meets next on Tuesday to continue the process. It still has to finalize the budget by voting on its budget “parking lot” — a list of items to be either added or removed from the budget pending more information from municipal staff.
The parking lot includes Coun. Waye Mason’s motion to consider taking on extra financial risk to offset a hiring freeze and staffing cuts, along with reduced cuts to fire and police budgets and other items.
Coun. Shawn Cleary added an item to the parking lot on Friday: a motion to consider keeping the municipality’s membership with the National Association of City Transportation Officials — an association advocating for progressive street design. That membership, valued at about $21,000, was cut from the transportation and public works budget.
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