Councillors are in favour of a 4.8% increase to the Parks and Recreation budget, and they’re considering adding another $3 million.
Halifax regional council’s budget committee met Wednesday to debate the 2020-2021 operating budget for Parks and Recreation. Director Denise Schofield presented the budget to councillors, including an increase of about $1.5 million over last year, up to a total of $32.8 million. Councillors voted unanimously in favour of that increased budget.
Schofield also presented councillors with several options over and under budget to consider for their budget adjustment list — the options for councillors to consider at the end of the budget process.
They didn’t take her up on any of the under options, opportunities for cuts that included slashing funding to the Discovery Centre, reducing arts grants and suspending seasonal hiring for another year.
But they added nearly $3 million in options over budget.
The largest of those was $1,757,350 to account for forecasted deficits from seven multi-district facilities. These are facilities owned by HRM but managed by boards. They are Alderney Landing, Canada Games Centre, Centennial Pool, Cole Harbour Place, Halifax Forum, St. Margaret’s Centre, and Zatzman Sportsplex.
Collectively, they’re finishing fiscal 2020-2021 more than $6 million in the red, and the losses are expected to continue this year. The municipality, as the owners of these facilities, has to pay off their deficits anyway, so councillors agreed on Wednesday to consider budgeting for those deficits for 2021-2022.
As shown in the chart below, many of the facilities are already subsidized and need more money to stay afloat this year, but others typically break even.
The extra money would more than double the amount of subsidy going to the facilities.
Also added to the budget adjustment list was a total of $750,000 for grants for COVID-19 recovery events. That number breaks down to $600,000 for outdoor, physically distanced events in the downtowns, and $150,000 for suburban and rural areas.
Those are one-time expenses, and Mayor Mike Savage, who’s argued against budget additions that could lead to tax increases, was in favour of those and others. Savage suggested councillors could pay for those one-time items with the $26 million in extra gas tax revenue due from the federal government.
Savage also moved to add one ongoing item to the budget adjustment list — an extra $250,000 annually for Discover Halifax to promote tourism in the municipality.
Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to add $125,000 to the budget adjustment list for public art at Queen’s Marque. Develop Nova Scotia, formerly known as Waterfront Development, wants to commission a wire mesh sculpture for the site by Italian artist Eduardo Tresoldi.
HRM would pay $125,000, Develop Nova Scotia $150,000 and the developer, Armour Group, would pay $275,000.
Councillors received a staff report on that request in September, voting to bring it forward for consideration during the budget process.
The last item added to the budget adjustment list Wednesday was $85,000 for a “multi-service youth centre” in Lower Sackville. Coun. Paul Russell, chair of the committee, moved that item, explaining that there’s a staff report pending on the matter and the money might not be needed.
In total, councillors added $2,967,350 to the list on Wednesday, and by the Examiner’s count, it now adds up to $5.8 million — a potential increase to the average property tax bill of about $20.
One notable item presented to councillors but not added to the budget adjustment list was $1.4 million for the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The gallery’s director and CEO made a presentation to council’s Audit and Finance Standing Committee in January, asking for $7 million from HRM over five years. The committee asked for a staff report on the request, which is supposed to come to council during the budget process.