Councillors will consider spending an extra $7.5 million on new sidewalks next year.
Halifax regional council’s budget committee met virtually on Friday, continuing its Tuesday discussion of the proposed 2022-2023 capital budget — the city’s list of new and ongoing projects for the coming year.
At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors requested a briefing note on improving crosswalk infrastructure in the municipality. That briefing note will come back to council with a dollar figure as part of the budget adjustment list, sometimes called the parking lot. At the end of the budget process, councillors will pick and choose from the list to add or subtract from the budget before it’s finalized, typically in April.
Coun. Kathryn Morse signaled on Tuesday that she’d ask for a briefing note on increased spending for new sidewalks, those on streets that don’t have them and create gaps in the pedestrian network. Morse made the request on Friday, with a dollar figure of $7.5 million.
“At the rate we’re going we can’t even get one sidewalk built in each district,” Morse said. “This would increase that and try to address the backlog of 600 sidewalk requests.”
Coun. Sam Austin supported Morse’s request.
“This program line really hasn’t seen a significant increase in a long time, which is part of the challenge that we find ourselves in in terms of a growing list,” he said.
New sidewalks fall under active transportation in the draft capital plan, with about $6 million in total spending proposed for 2022-2023. There’s no breakdown, however, showing just the sidewalk figures. Morse pegged that number at $2.5 million, and said there were only 10 planned. She hoped the $7.5 million would quadruple that figure.
Brad Anguish, HRM’s director of transportation and public works, said the money wouldn’t go that far.
“One kilometre of sidewalk in Cherry Brook, which is needed, is about $4 million,” Anguish said.
The cost to clear the full backlog of new sidewalks, Anguish said, is about $500 million.
“$7.5 million is a significant increase. It would get probably two decent additional segments done per year,” Anguish said.
Coun. Tony Mancini wondered whether the money could be better spent.
“I’ll support the request for a briefing note but I’m not sure what this really does and $7.5 million may be better allocated somewhere else if we’re going to add it to the budget,” he said.
The motion for a briefing note passed. As did these others:
- Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace requested a briefing note on addressing “infrastructure deficiencies, lack of traffic control and stormwater manage stormwater management, and alleviating congestion on Hammonds Plains Road from Blue Water Road to Larry Uteck Boulevard” by moving $3.5 million in money planned for oversizing road infrastructure in the area to the 2024-2025 budget year.*
- Coun. Tim Outhit requested a briefing note on building the new fire station and Halifax Fire headquarters planned for Hammonds Plains Road one year sooner, in 2023-2024. Outhit asked for the note to outline how other projects could be delayed to pay for this one sooner.
- Coun. David Hendsbee asked for a briefing note on modifying the planned demolition of Eastern Shore Consolidated School to save parts of the structure for potential use as housing.
Budget talks are scheduled to continue on February 2, 2022, when council will debate operating budgets for the finance and asset management department, the CAO’s office, and the auditor general’s office, and receive an update on property tax assessments for the next fiscal year.
Final budget approval is scheduled for April 12.
*Correction, Dec. 18, 2021:
An earlier version of this article misstated the type of infrastructure discussed.