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The Co-op Covers Council

Aug. 14: Ice rinks are consolidated, seniors get free transit, and public property election signs get the boot

by Natascia L

Halifax's city hall (courtesy of halifax.ca).
Halifax's city hall (courtesy of halifax.ca).

In assessing the candidates for the upcoming municipal elections, incumbents’ worthiness should be determined not by their leadership, nor their background, nor their vision for the HRM.

Rather, candidates should be judged on their brevity, conciseness of phrasing and intelligent use of vocabulary — not that these qualities will necessary make for a more competent Halifax Regional Council, but at the very least they will encourage shorter, to-the-point, productive weekly council meetings that induce less groaning and eye-rolling on the part of the public.


1 rink, two-pad, four-pad, five

Hockey still has a lot of weight in Canada if staff’s presentation of its Long Term Arena Strategy on Tuesday was any indication.

The HRM has 25 sheets of ice (some facilities have more than one); 10 of those are over 40 years old. A staff report indicates that $2 million is lost every year due to inefficient and aged arenas.

So, staff recommended the consolidation of several rinks into multi-pad (think: more than one rink) arenas. On the peninsula, the Devonshire Arena, Civic Arena and Halifax Forum would be closed, with the latter having been designated at the optimal location for the new ice. On the Dartmouth side, the Bowles, Gray and Lebrun arenas would shut down, with an eye to move all to the Shannon Park Arena.

No ice will be lost, and community access and centralized scheduling plans will ensure equal and optimal usage of the new arenas by a variety of groups. The price tag, though, is a hefty one: over $100 million.

That number wasn’t the focus of the councillors; it was ‘what’s best for the community.’ Debbie Hum and Dawn Sloane argued that consolidating arenas meant them being less accessible to residents of certain neighbourhoods. For that reason, the Centennial and Spryfield (“geographically important”) arenas will get their own redevelopment, but remain in the same location.

Other councillors, like Russell Walker, Jennifer Watts and Sue Uteck, were unconvinced that the interested parties were properly consulted before the report was drafted. Uteck foresees this report (which was accepted unanimously ‘in principle,’ by the way) butting up against residents’ opinions once public consultations occur.

Speaking of which, during its lengthy discussions the council failed to remember that the HRM Citizen Survey presented just last week indicated a public preference for maintaining facilities as opposed to creating new ones. To repair the existing arenas would initially cost $15 million, but staff says it wouldn’t be as cost efficient in the long run.


Grampy gets a joy ride

Following attempt after attempt, councillor Jerry Blumenthal has finally gotten his proposal for a free transit day for seniors passed — and just in time for his own retirement from council.

The three-month pilot project beginning in September will allow seniors to use Metro Transit for free on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and again after 6 p.m.

Some councillors expressed their concerns over further indebting Metro Transit, especially since the revenue loss of such a project is unknown; others asked why free or reduced transit is being considered by age group, not by income level.


A sign of what’s to come

In anticipation of the upcoming elections, council reviewed a staff report regarding when and where campaign signs could go up.

The report delineated that signs would be allowed at any time on private and commercial property with the permission of the owner, but never on municipal property. On streets, they would be permitted within certain distance and location specifications, and only starting Sept. 1.

The discussion took an interesting turn (well, in council terms, anyhow) when Uteck motioned to disallow any signage on public lands. Councillors Gloria McCluskey and Sloane agreed they didn’t want to see signs anywhere. The back-and-forth centered on “clutter” and whether OK-ing (or not OK-ing) signage affected the campaigning power of incumbents who had not been sitting on council for decades.

Uteck’s motion passed by a rarely seen slim margin of 12-11.


Sidewalk costs: the decision of our future

Apparently, sidewalk taxes and improvement charges are a big issue. A staff report calls them “complex and confusing for citizens.” Forget about all the other social and economic problems plaguing Halifax, sidewalk monies are what will bring this city down — at least that’s what it seemed like from council’s perspective.

In light of existing kerfuffle of rates, staff recommended HRM residents be charged a general rate for regional sidewalks and an area rate for local sidewalks: keep it simple, stupid.

Uteck then motioned for only a general rate, because the HRM should have a more all-inclusive vision for its pavement. The boxing gloves emerged. Councillors Stephen Adams and David Hendsbee said they will not have the residents of their ridings paying for sidewalks when there are none outside their doors, and when they are less likely to get them approved than urban areas. Sloane replied that these residents surely use sidewalks elsewhere in the HRM. Good point, Sloane.

Over an hour and a half later, Uteck’s motion passed 17-4.


In other news

Councillor Jackie Barkhouse got the council to agree unanimously that the City request the provincial government place it under the Compensation Disclosure Act, meaning HRM would have to publicize the salaries of all employees whose annual income exceeds $100,000.

Council approved a motion, drawn up by Watts, to request the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities ask the provincial government to review transportation options in light of the recently announced VIA Rail cuts and Acadian Lines closure.

Staff will prepare a reporting regarding the amendment of a by-law to ease the growth of mobile food operations, like food trucks and carts, in the HRM thanks to a motion also put forth by Watts.

[Door-to-door salesman voice:] Do you want your name to go down in history? The Halifax Central Library Board got the go-ahead Tuesday to begin its capital campaign. The goal: acquire donors to help the fund the Spring Garden Road mega book house with the sweet incentive of thank you plaques and dedicated hallways.

Libraries and reading not your thing? The Asset Naming Policy allows anybody (yes, you!) to apply for an HRM-owned property, like a street, park or building, to be named after the person you choose (like you!). Seven people were placed on the commemorative name list and two got parks renamed. An application was submitted to have the Otter Lake Waste Processing & Disposal Facility renamed in honour of Mayor Peter Kelly, but it was denied.

The next Halifax Regional Council sits Tuesday, September 11. Follow @wordpuddle, and #hfxcouncil for live tweeting updates.

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Topics: Governance
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