‘Black Lives Matter’ is projected onto Halifax City Hall during a film screening in Grand Parade in June. — Image by Stacey Gomez

Halifax councillors will consider adding $72,500 to next year’s budget to fight anti-Black racism within the municipality.

The money would be added to $300,000 redirected from the planned purchase of an armoured vehicle for Halifax Regional Police. When councillors voted to cancel that purchase in June 2020, they also voted to spend most of the would-be cost on anti-Black racism initiatives.

At a budget committee meeting on Wednesday, Tracey Jones-Grant, the municipality’s diversity manager, outlined the need for an extra $72,500 during her presentation on the budget for the city’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Jones-Grant reminded councillors they voted to recognize the Decade for People of African Descent.

“We also have made a commitment as a municipality to address anti-Black racism, and I have limited resources currently within my existing staffing and supports in the African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office,” Jones-Grant said.

The plan is to create an Anti-Black Racism Strategy and Action Plan. To do so, Jones-Grant told councillors she needs to budget $85,000 for a temporary position; $100,000 for “Support for external and community projects;” $50,000 for external consulting; $77,500 for training, a speakers series and an awareness campaign; $30,000 for an anti-Black racism audit; and $20,000 specifically for the African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office.

The total cost is $362,500. Of the $300,000, $10,000 was used in the current budget year, leaving a gap of $72,500.

“That’s what is needed in this year to help us begin and continue our work with respect to anti-Black racism,” Jones-Grant told councillors.

As part of the city’s annual budgeting process, each business unit is given a target budget from chief financial officer Jane Fraser’s office. It’s typically an increase over the previous year’s budget, but it’s designed to increase the total budget only by the target amount approved by council — this year, that coincides with an increase to the average property tax bill of 1.9%

When managers want to test council’s will to include an item that doesn’t fit within the budget target, they bring it to the budget committee as an “over” item. Those items become part of the budget adjustment list, commonly referred to as the budget parking lot, for consideration at the end of the budget process.

The $72,500 for anti-Black racism initiatives is one of those items, and councillors unanimously supported its inclusion on the budget adjustment list.

“You can’t take a knee in June, you can’t attend a march in October, and then when the budget comes, say, ‘That’s not our responsibility,’” Mayor Mike Savage said during Wednesday’s meeting.

The total budget Jones-Grant’s office for 2021-2022, not including the additional funding, is $1,194,600. Her office falls under the umbrella of chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé’s office, with a total budget of $9,874,700 proposed for 2021-2022. That umbrella also includes the councillor support office, Government Relations and External Affairs, and the mayor’s office.

Under the councillor support office budget, proposed for $2,944,700 for 2021-2022, council added another parking lot item. Coun. Waye Mason proposed to double the money spent on mail-outs for councillors’ newsletters from $56,000 to $112,000. That would allow councillors to continue sending out paper newsletters twice a year, as opposed to once.

The budget committee also considered budgets from the Human Resources and Legal and Legislative Services business units, with no proposed items over the budget target, and the Auditor General’s budget. Evangeline Colman-Sadd proposed one item over the target budget: $76,100 for an IT expert for a planned audit of Halifax Water’s information technology security.

In total, councillors added $204,600 to the budget adjustment list on Wednesday. They’re expected to debate the full budget adjustment list on April 20, effectively the end of the budget process.

The committee is scheduled to continue Wednesday’s meeting on Friday to discuss its options to fund the budget adjustment list.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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