As part of their budget process, Halifax regional councillors will consider reducing the frequency of green bin and blue bag pickup.
On Wednesday, council’s budget committee met to debate the proposed 2021-2022 Transportation and Public Works operating budget. Director Brad Anguish presented the budget, seeking an increase of 8.1% up to $91,279,900. The budget increase includes nine new full-time positions, the reinstatement of seasonal positions cut due to COVID-19, and increased solid waste contracts.
Anguish also presented councillors with several options over and under budget, and during Wednesday’s meeting, councillors agreed to further consider those options later in the budget process.
Among the options under budget — opportunities for budget cuts — were reductions in green bin and blue bag pickup, at savings of $850,000 each.
In a typical year, the municipality collects green bins weekly in July and August to limit odour and deter pests.
Last year, due to COVID-19 budget cuts, councillors agreed to keep bi-weekly green bin pickup through the summer. This year, councillors will consider doing the same after Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to add the item to council’s budget adjustment list.
That motion passed (with councillors Paul Russell, Tim Outhit, Cathy Deagle-Gammon, David Hendsbee, Becky Kent, and Trish Purdy voting no), and that means a briefing note will come to the committee’s budget adjustment list meeting in late-April.
Cleary asked that the briefing note include consideration for keeping weekly pickup in areas of the municipality where homes don’t have side yards and stinky green bins may line the sidewalk.
Hendsbee said there were issues with bears being attracted to green bins in his rural district, but multiple councillors said they didn’t receive many complaints about last summer’s bi-weekly green bin pickup. And Anguish said he was surprised how few complaints the municipality received. Coun. Lindell Smith asked Anguish to include the number of calls to 311 complaining about the pickup in the briefing note.
After the green bin motion passed, Hendsbee moved to reduce blue bag service.
In urban and some suburban areas of the municipality, recycling is picked up at the curb weekly, while in rural areas it’s picked up bi-weekly. Reducing all areas of the municipality to bi-weekly pickup year-round would save $850,000, and councillors argued that unlike compost, it doesn’t smell or attract maggots (assuming people rinse their recycling).
That motion passed unanimously, and if it goes ahead, the municipality will consider the change a pilot project.
Bus stop snow clearing and special waste could increase budget
While those two items would save a total of $1.7 million, councillors also voted to add $2.1 million to the budget adjustment list.
Cleary moved to add $2 million to the budget adjustment list for better snow clearing at bus stops. If passed during the final budget meeting, that would mean bus stops have to be cleared 24 hours after the end of a snow storm, rather than the current 48 hours.
The better snow clearing is necessary, Cleary argued, if councillors want to get people back on the bus after the pandemic decimated ridership.
That motion passed.
And Coun. Tony Mancini moved to add $115,000 to the budget adjustment list to add six mobile household special waste events this summer. Those are events where the municipality sets up a pop-up recycling depot for items like paint, chemicals light bulbs, and batteries. There are already 12 planned for the year ahead.
Mancini argued that because the main special waste depot is on the Halifax side of the harbour, in Bayers Lake, the extra events are necessary to fend off illegal dumping on the Dartmouth side. The events were cancelled last year due to COVID-19. That motion passed as well.
Though it doesn’t carry any dollar figure yet, Coun. Sam Austin moved for a briefing note Wednesday on accelerating the city’s urban forest master plan to be 75% complete in the next three years. That motion passed.
Councillors could add more items to the parking lot when the meeting, which was adjourned, continues on Friday morning.
With the four monetary items added on Wednesday — two options over budget and two options under budget — the total, by the Halifax Examiner’s count, is $2,441,400.
If council adopted every one of the 14 items on the list and paid for all of them through the tax rate, again by the Examiner’s calculations, the average residential property tax bill would increase by another $8.52 on top of the $38 already budgeted for. Councillors will typically fund items on the list using surplus or reserve funding, and they’re unlikely to adopt all of the items on the list.
Road safety and cycling infrastructure
They didn’t make it to the budget adjustment list, but councillors asked Anguish about his business unit’s work on road safety and cycling infrastructure.
Wednesday’s meeting began with public presentations, including one from Curtis Larsh, @strollermvmt on Twitter, who made an impassioned plea to councillors to do something about road safety in Halifax.
“The design and policies of our crosswalks are killing us,” Larsh said.
“The community of HRM is calling on you to swiftly act on the human rights issue strollers face every time we go outside. Stroller, an inclusive term for pedestrians.”
Larsh called out the car culture that sees even fatal collisions as “accidents,” and not the preventable incidents they are.
A pick-up truck driver hit and killed 75-year-old David Gass just last week, Larsh reminded councillors. The driver got a ticket.
“I condemn and denounce the policies and laws in place that have protected this driver to be charged with a failure to yield for a pedestrian … Compare this to the generations of suffering the Gass family will now be forced to live,” Larsh said.
“This was not justice.”
Larsh told councillors and the mayor they’re “barely getting your toes wet” in fixing road safety.
“Where is your steadfast commitment to Vision Zero? Why are you not holding traffic engineers accountable? It’s time to jump in. The water’s just fine,” Larsh said.
To back up, Halifax regional council adopted a Strategic Road Safety Framework in 2018. Transportation and Public Works staff originally dubbed the document a “plan,” but it was so flimsy that the Transportation Standing Committee renamed it a “framework.”
The framework is a bastardization of the Vision Zero movement, which sets a goal of reducing transportation fatalities and injuries to zero. Instead, the municipality set a goal of reducing injuries and fatalities by 20% in five years, and even that goal was tougher than the 15% staff originally proposed. They referred to it as “towards zero.”
Thanks to a reduction in traffic due to the pandemic, the municipality has now hit that goal.
During Wednesday’s presentation, Anguish told councillors that staff set the baseline for that reduction at 800 fatal and injury collisions based on 2018 and 2019 numbers. The municipality has now hit its goal with a 23.6% reduction down to 611 fatal and injury collisions — five of which were fatal.
So did councillors set a new, tougher goal? No.
Coun. Waye Mason asked Anguish to clarify that the 20% reduction wasn’t the municipality’s end goal. Anguish said staff in the department have been asking when they’ll go to council to talk about layering on another goal or changing this one.
“If there’s a desire to push further faster we’re absolutely standing by to execute on that,” Anguish said. “It’s all about the availability of the money.”
Mason also asked Anguish about the municipality’s ability to complete the regional centre bike network on time. There’s some debate over that deadline. In 2019, the federal government announced it would pay for half the $25-million network, and Mason argues that’s when the five-year clock starts ticking, but 2017’s Integrated Mobility Plan and the municipality’s own open data site say the connected network should be complete “by 2022.”
That’s not going to happen.
Anguish reported that the network is 33% complete, and said it would be done by 2025. He’s going to provide councillors with a briefing note detailing how that will happen.
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