— Jean Laroche (@larochecbc) March 8, 2016
2. City budget
At least three city councillors yesterday told “the media” in chambers yesterday to properly report on the passage of the city budget, which they insist is a good news story and evidence of sound financial management.
They say this because there is a slight decrease in tax rates, although average tax bills will remain the same. Total expenditures have also dipped slightly (from $726.6 million to $724.7 million), reflecting primarily a reduction in fuel costs — Halifax Transit’s diesel budget decreased 12 per cent, from $9.3 million to $8.2 million, and the non-transit diesel budget has declined 18 per cent, from $10.9 million to $8.95 million. There are similar reductions across departments in gasoline and heating costs. But the official line is costs are contained because everyone’s on top of their game.
Property tax receipts are increasing, albeit slowly — from $511.3 million last year to $516.6 million this year, about a one per cent increase.
There is also the money paid by the federal and provincial governments to the city that reflect those governments’ property use in the city — those payments aren’t technically property taxes, but are called “property in lieu of taxes” (PILT). Property taxes and PILT combined are the bulk of city revenue — about 84 per cent, $713.3 million this year, up from $700 million last year, just a 0.4 per cent increase.
I would have liked to have seen a discussion of the reasons why property tax and PILT revenue is increasing so slowly, but such a discussion isn’t in the budget documents I’ve reviewed. The property assessment cap doesn’t completely explain it, and it was my understanding that the city was about to see a windfall in the Citadel Hill PILT. But whatever the explanation for the tiny increase in total property tax and PILT revenue, it is undoubtedly why council approves every real estate development that comes before it.
Just think what the city budget will look like when fuel costs stay flat or increase and if property tax receipts crash by, say, five or 10 percent.
But councillors Tim Outhit, Bill Karsten, and Barry Dalrymple told me to tell you it’s a good news budget.
3. Council pay
The big issue at council yesterday was council pay. I’ll let Remo Zaccagna from Local Xpress, who stayed for the entire three hour debate, explain it:
Last year, councillors asked that an independent committee be formed to look at doing away with the current weighted formula that determines their base salary.
On Tuesday, this four-member committee, led by Gerald Walsh, a chartered professional accountant and head of a human resources company, tabled a report that recommended a new formula that did not sit well with many councillors.
“This whole thing has been, in my opinion, and my opinion only, a flawed process,” Coun. Russell Walker (Halifax-Bedford Basin West) said.
Under the proposed formula, councillors would receive the average salary of a full-time worker in Halifax Regional Municipality plus 25 per cent, which would mean their 2016 salary would be $74,000.
The deputy mayor would receive 110 per cent of a councillor’s salary, or $81,400, while the mayor would be paid 2.2 times a councillor’s salary or $162,000.
The committee recommended freezing councillors’ salaries until it caught up to the proposed formula. For councillors, their current salary is $82,653; the deputy mayor earns $90,918; and the mayor is paid $176,034.
I only stayed for the first hour or so of the debate, but that was enough for me to see how it was going. Here’s how I reacted on Twitter:
1/ Let’s remember that councillors get over $82K a year.
2/ In a perfect world, councillors would get decently paid, with a wage that reflects their workload and experience, knowledge, etc.
3/ But this is not a perfect world. In fact, it’s a world being run into the ground by neoliberal politics embraced by many councillors.
4/ A few hours ago, council accepted a report that said that Halifax had the 2nd best economy in Canada (after Vancouver), & no one blinked.
5/ You can only say such a thing by ignoring the plight of working people losing their pensions, students seeing 20% tuition increases…
6/ While unions are being smashed, people laid off, interns working for free, etc.
7/ How the fuck DARE councillors talk about wage fairness?
Really, I don’t have a problem with people, even politicians, being paid well. We should strive for a well-paid workforce. But when those very same politicians are attacking the employee unions, well, it’s unseemly for them to be demanding wage fairness. Let’s not forgot that a few years ago most of the people on council today forced a 42-day transit strike because they thought bus drivers were getting paid too much — imagine the carnage if, say, Linda Mosher were driving the #52 for even one afternoon, but Mosher got up yesterday and spoke of how a $82K cap on council salary would discourage people from running for council.
I had to leave in disgust when Russell Walker, representing Fairview, one of the poorest districts in the municipality, whined that the cap on his salary would mean that eight years from now an employee in the clerk’s office would be making more money than he. Boo-fucking-hoo. But that was the clear mentality of the majority of councillors: they see themselves as on the right side of the inequality divide, and they weren’t about to let anyone question that. So they defeated the proposal.
There was one bright spot in the discussion, and that was when Waye Mason pointed out that plenty of people work for less money than they’re worth and councillors were coming off as assholes.
4. Hacketts Cove v Eleanor McCain
Eleanor McCain has tried to keep people off a public beach in Hacketts Cove, say nearby residents:
Land access to the beach crossed over lot 88 which until recently, was owned by a German gent. He had intentions on building a summer home, but due to complications, he never did. The one thing he did do though, he understood the close ties of the beach to the community. So he continued to allow the community to access Barney’s Beach via a well placed path…
As mentioned this path has been used for generations BY the community to gain access to the coastline, and prestige beach…well before the German gent even owned the property for that matter. It should be noted that the lot to the south of the beach was bought and developed by Ms. McCain. At the time when the house was being constructed, people rather felt proud to have another McCain in the neighborhood. Her parents owned property not too far away, and her late father, from all the stories told, was very much a respected individual in the community. He would always engage with the locals as much as he could.
Unfortunately Ms. McCain does not live by her comments. She has done everything in her power to stifle access to Barney’s Beach from the community. She has gone above and beyond to disengage herself from the community, a far cry from “My parents always wanted us to be part of the community and to not feel separate from it.” She has gone so far as to actually purchase the large swath of land from that German gent to totally stop land access to the beach. She has heavy handed the good community of Hackett’s Cove for her own agenda.
1. Cranky letter of the day
Since we love to hike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe you might imagine we would support the plans to put the Trans Canada Trail through our area. Yet the more meetings of our local “Development Association” we attended the more we came to realize that this was a trail which was being specifically designed for snowmobile use.
The committee in charge of the small section of trail in our community is due to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. So far at least $32,000 of this funding has come from the Off Highway Vehicle Infrastructure Fund.
They are using much of this money to design the trail specifically to be conducive to snowmobiles. This includes building a trail wide enough and bridges big enough to support a regular “groomer” who will go over the trail in the winter in order to make it more easily accessible to snowmobiles (and, coincidentally, to allow them to travel at much faster speeds).
Some sections of the trail are being routed onto disused public roads (K class roads). It is grimly ironic that, in the name of a community nature trail, these disused public roads are being repaired and outfitted with bridges big enough to support logging trucks and heavy equipment.
Contrast this with the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), which stretches from Georgia to Maine and is probably the most famous long distance hiking trail in the U.S. The A.T. is only arm’s width for much of its length and some of its brook crossings consist simply of stepping stones placed by thoughtful hikers or volunteers (sometimes there aren’t even these). Why is the A.T. so rugged and unrefined? Because, unlike the Trans Canada Trail, it’s meant to be a low-impact wilderness hiking trail, not a recreational vehicle trail.
The fact is that a trail designed for vehicles is going to be inhospitable and even dangerous for hikers, snowshoers, and skiers. According to the Ecology Action Centre, which supports a non motorized Trans Canada Trail, there is a “…growing body of evidence that a significant percentage of the population will avoid walking, hiking, biking, etc. on so called “shared use” trails where OHVs are driven…”.
On the other hand community infrastructure that supports and encourages “active transportation” (human powered) over vehicle travel helps to create healthier individuals, communities and environments. As we watch determined walkers and bikers huddled on the shoulders of our roads inhaling fumes and bracing themselves against on-coming traffic it’s not hard to see the missed potential of these current and proposed vehicle centered trails.
Recent studies have shown that, on average, rural Canadians have a shorter lifespan than their urban counterparts. It’s thought that one of the causes of this discrepancy is the sedentary, vehicle based lifestyle led by many rural Canadians. By designing another trail specifically for off highway vehicles and potentially alienating skiers, snowshoers, and hikers we are ultimately discouraging aerobic exercise in our community.
What about the effects on wildlife? What does the rare and elusive lynx that was in our area until recently do when snowmobiles are regularly tearing through its habitat at a deafening 100 kilometers an hour?
Instead of routing the trail entirely through the many thousands of acres of nearby Crown land in our area it is being laid out to border private property for much of its route in order to “bring it into the community”. The advocates of the trail are apparently unaware that high traffic, noisy OHV trails often decrease the property value of adjacent landowners. We fail to see any reason or lasting benefit from bringing a snowmobile trail into our community. In fact, a trail of this sort without full community support can be an imposition that infringes on the rights of others.
Another argument for not placing the trail further back on Crown land is that the Crown land doesn’t offer attractive views. Has no one considered that one of the reasons the private land offers more attractive views is that the private landowners have taken greater care of it and treated it more respectfully then the logging companies have treated the Crown land? As conscious stewards of our land why would we welcome a trail which will not only disrupt, devalue, and further fragment our remaining natural habitat but one which also promotes vehicle pollution?
The bottom line is that the Trans Canada Trail is not a greenway, it is not a nature trail, and it is not environmentally sound. In our area at least, it seems that it is a Trojan horse masquerading under the guise of a greenway when its true aim is to further the use of motorized recreational vehicles (or perhaps, in the case of the public road sections of the trail, to allow easier extraction of natural resources).
But in the end, as small family farmers, the issue goes even deeper than this for us. We’re disturbed by the tendency to see the land as simply either a place of recreation or commercial resource extraction. Land is life. It is where our food grows and our animals graze. It’s not, as Nova Scotia’s current license plate motto might have you think, just a “playground”. It is, quite literally, what sustains us.
Isadora Feigin, Lake Ainslie
Public information meeting (7pm, Sackville Heights Community Centre) — Sobeys wants to open a liquor store at its store at 80 First Lake Drive.
Community Services (10pm, One Government Place) — Deputy Minister Lynn Hartwell will be asked about Child Welfare Services.
Sharing the Burden? (12:30pm, Lord Dalhousie Room) — Benjamin Zyla, from the University of Ottawa, will talk whether Canada should be a war-mongering nation or not. Says the event listing:
His new book, Sharing the Burden?, tackles one of the biggest issues, assessing whether, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO’s middle powers, including Canada, have shirked their responsibilities within NATO. Using a range of measures that go beyond troop numbers and defense budgets to include peacekeeping commitments, foreign economic assistance, and contributions to NATO’s rapid reaction forces and infrastructure, Zyla argues that, proportionally, Canada’s NATO commitments in the 1990s rivaled those of the alliance’s major powers. At the same time, he demonstrates that Canadian policy was driven by strong normative principles to assist failed and failing states rather than a desire to ride the coattails of the United States, as is often presumed. It’s a useful point of entry into the nature of alliances in international relations
Fish (4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Kathryn Vanya Ewart will speak on “Cool solutions: Model genes and proteins in a northern fish species.” Bring your own fish.
In the harbour
ZIM Barcelona, container ship, New York to Pier 41, then sails to sea
ZIM Tarragona, container ship, Valencia, Spain to Pier 42, then sails to sea
OOCL Kuala Lumpur, container ship, Cagliari, Italy to Fairview Cove
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 4pm, talking about cat memes.