Halifax’s head of planning and development is hopeful new staff would speed up development permitting processing.
Regional councillors voted during a virtual meeting on Friday to add $924,700 to their budget adjustment list for consideration at the end of their budget building process. That money would be an ongoing annual expense used to hire new staff in Planning and Development to process and approve building permits.
Kelly Denty, executive director of Planning and Development, made the request for the funding in her 2022-2023 budget presentation, highlighting significant delays in permit processing in 2021.
Included in Denty’s presentation was a graph showing median processing times for major permits climbed from 11 days in 2015 to 21 days in 2020 all the way up to 47 days in 2021.
“We know that last year’s wait times were nowhere near acceptable,” Denty said.
“This came as a result of a convergence of a number of factors, including higher permit volumes, increased project complexities, staff turnover, and changes resulting from our new permit online system. But of those factors, the most significant was staffing.”
Denty said those median processing times have improved in recent months, to about 15 days for major projects, but that’s because there are fewer applications in the winter. Her goal is to keep median processing times for minor projects to 10 days, and for major projects to 30 days.
Coun. Lindell Smith, among others, said he’s heard about the wait times.
“I know how many permits are in the queue because I hear from developers all the time,” he said.
Smith’s motion to add the item to the budget adjustment list passed unanimously.
Councillors also added three other Planning and Development items to the list:
- $1.5 million for master planning of “future serviced communities”
- $1 million for plan and bylaw simplification, which Denty said would be used to start public consultation on new planning rules for suburban and rural HRM
- $200,000 for Mill Cove planning and infrastructure design, which Denty said would be used to plan for development around the new Mill Cove ferry terminal
Those three items are one-time costs, and could be funded using surplus or savings, meaning they wouldn’t necessarily change the tax bill.
During Friday’s meeting, councillors also finished their discussion on the 2022-2023 Parks and Recreation budget, and added five items to the budget adjustment list:
- $110,500 for a youth centre in Spryfield
- $35,000 for insuring community skating rinks
- $568,000 to create a standardized wage structure for casual staff
- $200,000 for events grants to rebound from COVID-19
- $160,000 to cover budgeted deficits in multi-district facilities like the Zatzman Sportsplex
The budget adjustment list, by the Halifax Examiner’s count, now adds up about $18 million in options over and under budget. Councillors will pick and choose from the list when they finalize the budget in March.
The next budget committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, when councillors will consider the Halifax Regional Police and RCMP budgets.