Councillors have opted not to consider cuts to sidewalk snow clearing and summer green bin collection.
Along with that budget, staff presented a list of options to save money through cuts and increased revenue. Councillors have been looking to those cuts to bring down the increase to the average tax bill.
One of those options was a move to cut green bin collection during the summer months from weekly to biweekly. That would save HRM $900,000, but councillors decided the added headaches for residents aren’t worth the savings.
Coun. Shawn Cleary moved to add the cut to the budget adjustment list for consideration at the end of the budget process in late-March.
“I just want to see how serious you guys are about saving money,” Cleary said.
The vote was 10-5 against the cut, with Cleary, Mayor Mike Savage, Deputy Mayor Sam Austin, and councillors Tony Mancini and Tim Outhit voting yes.
Coun. Becky Kent voted no, and argued residents in rural areas need weekly green bin pickup to stave off vermin.
“The concerns you have in rural areas are very real when it comes to rodents and such, and bears, and racoons and all those things,” Kent said.
Councillors also raised concerns about diverting compost from the Otter Lake landfill. HRM is required to further reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in the dump as part of an agreement to close processing facilities.
No changes to sidewalk snow clearing
Cleary also moved to consider cutting sidewalk snow clearing on Priority 3 residential streets in HRM. That would save $6.5 million annually, but not until 2024-2025. That’s because there are contracts in place for snow clearing now.
The District 9 — Halifax West-Armdale councillor argued residents would be better off clearing their own sidewalks, the way they used to on the peninsula.
“Let’s be realistic about what’s actually done and when it’s done,” Cleary said, noting contractors have days to clear some sidewalks.
“Yesterday, my wife cross-country skied to work … so that’s how well we clear stuff around here.”
The vote was 10-4 against the cut, with Cleary, Mayor Mike Savage, and councillors Iona Stoddard and Pam Lovelace voting yes.
Austin, who voted no, said people in his Dartmouth Centre district have always had sidewalk snow clearing, and wouldn’t be keen to lose it.
“In Dartmouth, there is zero appetite for handing sidewalks back to residents,” Austin said.
“You want people to walk and use transit, you’ve got to give them the ability to do that. And that doesn’t just mean, ‘Well on my residential street I’ll grab out my snow shoes or my dog sled team and somehow make it down to the arterial that the city will still clear.'”
Cleary said he felt like no one wanted to cut anything.
“If we can’t cut it, then why the hell did you ask staff to go find cuts?” Cleary said.
Higher parking fees
Councillors did vote for some increased revenue options. On Tuesday, it voted to consider charging a fee for Saturday and weekday evening parking. On Wednesday, it voted to consider a 25% hike to weekday fees.
Savage moved the proposal, which would bring in $656,000 in 2023-2024, increasing to $875,000 in 2024-2025.
“I think, at the very least, it’s worth looking at,” Savage said.
That motion passed unanimously.
Additionally, councillors voted to consider increasing tipping fees for commercial compost, from $90 to $100 per tonne. That would net an extra $110,000 annually.
They’ll also consider an increase in street permit fees for work in the municipal right of way. That would bring in an extra $25,000.
And councillors will consider adding $350,000 to the budget for a performance-based towing program. Currently, HRM has a standing offer with tow truck companies, but they don’t always show. The proposal would pay those companies a retainer and require them to show up when called.
All of the changes are subject to another vote during the budget adjustment list debate, scheduled for March 29.
Budget deliberations continue on Friday with the Parks and Recreation, Planning and Development, and Auditor General’s office budgets.