How much space in a new Mill Cove Ferry Terminal should be devoted to a library, if any?
That’s the question Halifax regional councillors hope to answer with a staff report requested on Tuesday.
The growth of Bedford has far exceeded its small rented library space on Dartmouth Road.
“For almost 30 years, Bedford has needed a new library. It’s 6,000 square feet. For the population size of Bedford it should be something closer to 30,000,” Bedford-Wentworth Coun. Tim Outhit said.
During budget deliberations, councillors asked for a report on moving funding for a new library (and fire station) for Bedford up the priority list. Finance staff planned to push the new library out to 2025-2026. They included $500,000 in the capital budget in that first year. Previously, they budgeted $500,000 each in 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 and $2 million in 2025-2026.
New library expected to cost $14 million
In an information report to council on Tuesday, Philip Dugandzic, director of facility design and construction, outlined the cost of including the library in the new Mill Cove Ferry Terminal.
“Incorporating library space within the proposed Mill Cove Ferry Terminal would require an increase of $14M to the 2023/24 four-year capital plan, plus an additional 12 FTE’s and $723,000 in annual staffing and operating costs when the library opens for service, estimated for 2027,” Dugandzic wrote.
The municipality hopes to build a new ferry terminal on infilled land in Mill Cove in Bedford, pending federal funding. That plan includes 15,000 square feet for a library, Outhit said.
“Although space for a new library service is incorporated in the building design, the Mill Cove Ferry Service project $260M budget does not cover the construction cost of the library’s square footage,” Dugandzic wrote in the report.
“The Investing in Canadian Infrastructure Funding Program (ICIP) application does not include that portion of the building’s design for cost share funding and therefore the entire building construction and fit-up cost for the library will need to be funded by HRM, either through annual tax increases from capital-from-operating or debt financing.”
That would translate to a cumulative 2.85% increase to the average tax bill through 2026-2027.
But the space allocated for a new library likely isn’t enough, Outhit said.
“Is there a way of getting this a little bit larger than the 15,000 square feet?” Outhit said.
“If not, then so be it but let’s have one final look at it … And let’s get the funding in place should this overall project go ahead.”
Concerns over location
Deputy Mayor Sam Austin worried the site isn’t right for a library.
“The location is very isolated,” Austin said.
“It’s an awfully big bet on the ferry terminal, and it’s an awfully big bet on the location.”
Coun. Shawn Cleary disagreed.
“The area of Bedford along the waterfront could be a new downtown,” Cleary said.
“I think this whole area could be something special. This is a city building project for Halifax.”
Outhit agreed that the a library could help rejuvenate the Bedford waterfront.
“There is no reason to think that this rejuvenation of the Bedford waterfront couldn’t be helped by a library,” Outhit said.
“Let’s put it where it’s geographically the centre, of North Bedford and Larry Uteck. And let’s see if we can make it a little larger.”
Outhit moved for a staff report “investigating options for the size of the Bedford waterfront library prior to proceeding with the Mill Cove Ferry Terminal.” That motion passed unanimously.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting: Airport keeps tax deal
The Halifax International Airport Authority gets to hold onto its property tax deal until at least 2025.
Council voted to defer a vote on a staff recommendation to provide a year’s notice to terminate the 20-year agreement. HRM and HIAA reached the agreement in 2019, but it allows HRM to back out with 365 days notice.
The municipality doesn’t tax the airport like most other properties, based on assessment. Instead, HIAA pays a negotiated base charge, indexed to inflation, and a per-passenger fee.
Municipal finance staff argue the deal means HIAA underpays on taxes compared to other airports across Canada. During the budget process earlier this month, staff said a new deal could bring in up to $2 million more.
Most councillors were opposed to the idea of tearing up the deal now. Coun. Tony Mancini moved to defer for a year, citing the airport’s lost revenue during COVID-19. His motion passed 10-7. Cleary was among the seven, arguing the airport is a major polluter that should be taxed more.