The price tag for quicker sidewalk snow clearing was too steep for a majority of councillors to even consider.
On Friday, Halifax regional council’s budget committee continued its debate on the 2021-2022 Transportation and Public Works operating budget. On Wednesday, the committee heard a presentation from Transportation and Public Works director Brad Anguish and voted to consider reducing green bin and blue bag pickup in a bid to save $1.7 million this year.
The committee also voted to add $2 million to its budget adjustment list — a list of items to add or delete from the budget just before it’s finalized — for enhanced snow clearing around bus stops and $115,000 for six extra mobile special household waste depots.
On Friday, Coun. Shawn Cleary, who was successful with the bus stop snow clearing motion, moved to add enhanced sidewalk snow clearing to the budget adjustment list.
The change would require contractors and municipal staff to clear Priority 3 sidewalks, those in residential neighbourhoods not on transit routes, within 18 hours of the end of snow storm, rather than the current 36 hours. Staff estimated the cost at up to $4.5 million, which would add about $15 to the average property tax bill.
“If we really want more people walking around, if we really want more healthy kids, if we want less greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere, having kids being able to walk to school is fundamental,” Cleary said.
Coun. Becky Kent said she doesn’t want to raise taxes, and was concerned councillors were adding too many items to the budget adjustment list.
“I just see the bubble growing and growing and growing in our parking lot,” Kent said. “Ultimately, we’re going to have to pick and choose if there are things that we can keep and that we can not, and I’m not convinced this one is strong enough to support at a later date.”
Mayor Mike Savage shared Kent’s concerns.
“This is a very, very significant amount of money,” Savage said. “Would it make a difference? I’m sure it would make a difference, but we need to balance it against the size of the request that this is.”
Savage noted that the other items in the budget adjustment list add up to an extra $10 on the average tax bill, while this request would be more than all of them combined at $15.
Councillors have already voted in favour of a 1.9% increase to the average property tax bill, equal to $38, in principle.
Even Coun. Sam Austin, who usually votes with Cleary on issues like these, said he was worried about the dollar figure.
“It could be a nice enhancement, but I’d be more comfortable looking at this next year,” Austin said.
The motion failed by a vote of 9-8. Cleary, and councillors Lovelace, Mancini, Mason, Smith, Morse, Cuttell, and Stoddard voted yes. Austin, Savage, Kent, Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit, and councillors Lisa Blackburn, Paul Russell, Cathy Deagle-Gammon, and Trish Purdy voted no.
Another Cleary motion for the budget adjustment list passed on Friday. He moved $400,000 for title searches related to non-accepted streets, those that aren’t up to municipal standards but still receive municipal services. The plan is to start bringing them up to standards.
By the Examiner’s math, the 15-item budget adjustment list stands at $2,841,400. Councillors will pick and choose from that list during a meeting toward the end of the budget process, scheduled for April 20.
The committee approved the Transportation and Public Works budget, with an increase of 8.1% up to $91,279,900, pending any budget adjustment list changes.
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