Another column about budgets and Capital Pointe? #Sorrynotsorry
City Hall | by Paul Dechene
Hell of a coincidence, the winter’s biggest snow storm hitting just days after council voted not to even investigate a sidewalk shovelling bylaw. It was almost like Snow Miser heard about the Safe Sidewalk motion failing and said, “That’s my kind of town!”
I am happy to report that post-blizzard snow clearing in my neck of the woods has been pretty thorough. Within 72 hours of the weather event, the sidewalks I regularly trudge along were extremely tidy, excepting only a few holdouts. Worst offender: the sidewalk around a nearby surface parking lot owned by the provincial government which, as of this writing, still hasn’t been cleared even though plows scraped clean the parking area within hours of the storm ending.
The provincial government’s an inconsiderate neighbour? Who could’ve predicted that? Why, anyone who’s watched what their funding cuts have done to municipal budgets. Speaking of…
Big Budget Extendo Dance Mix
You’re probably wondering why you’re getting a city budget update this issue. “Council passed that in February, Dechene. Property taxes are going up by 4.34%. We know. It’s old news.”
It is old news. But I sat in Henry Baker Hall for six hours, enduring the annual budget dog and pony show.
You’re getting an update, dammit.
So yes, council shaved 0.52% off the proposed 4.86% property tax increase to get us down to a 4.34% increase for 2018. You can thank Ward 7 councillor, Sharron Bryce, for that decrease in the increase. She made a motion to use $969,000 from last year’s $6 million operating surplus to pay for a bunch of 2018 line items. She also moved to further reduce the increase by using the $200,000 the city will save now that the provincial government eliminated PST on insurance premiums.
“I think we did a great job of listening to taxpayers to reduce the mill rate but also to continue on with a steady-as-you-go budget, a no-frills budget,” said Bryce. “We dealt with the cuts again by the province. Three per cent of what we had was downloaded from the province. So I’m very pleased with where we got to.”
As for priorities that people felt were overlooked, several delegations flagged a lack of significant funding this budget for the local Housing First initiative, a program that provides housing to homeless people. Mayor Michael Fougere, however, argued that housing is still a priority.
“We have invested a significant amount of money in social housing,” says Fougere. “Millions of dollars. Just last week we put $705,000 into affordable housing on Halifax Street.* We’ve put millions of dollars into it. And that actually has a direct impact on homelessness. So we’re very much involved in affordable housing throughout the city.
“And we have invested $60,000 in a consultant report that will have a plan by September on functional zero [homelessness]. I’m very proud of that process because the entire community is behind this.”
Fougere points out that the federal government’s National Housing Strategy speaks of partnering with the provincial government on homelessness, not municipalities — and that that indicates how the responsibility for housing lies with higher levels of government.
“I understand [the delegations’] frustration. I’m frustrated too. But I want to do this right. I want the provincial government at the table for funding. I want the federal government at the table funding homelessness because that is their constitutional responsibility.”
Other priority shifts were contemplated over those six hours but were ultimately rejected by a majority of council. Councillor Lori Bresciani attempted to reinstate the condo solid waste rebate program** and expand park management by 23 hectares; Councillor Andrew Stevens tried to advance bike lane and multi-use pathway work by $250,000; and, Councillor Jason Mancinelli tried to get $1.5 million to fix the Sandra Schmirler Leisure Centre roof.*** All of those motions flopped but you can’t say council’s new members aren’t trying.
After all that, council passed its budget and adjourned. At 11:58 pm.
You know… people who sit through to the end of these things should really get a t-shirt or something.
Placing My Capital Pointe Bet
Speaking of interminable things…
The latest construction permit the city issued for everybody’s favourite gaping-hole-in-the-heart-of-the-city is set to expire unless the developer, Fortress Real Development, can get substantial work done on the foundation before the deadline — that deadline being March 15. It’s March 13 as I write this and Capital Pointe doesn’t have a foundation at the moment so much as it has a really great location for a “meteor-hits-a-mid-sized-prairie-city” movie.
I think it’s safe to say that there will not be anything remotely foundation-like completed in the next two days.
March 15, as it happens, is also the day this issue of Prairie Dog hits newsstands so by the time you’re reading this, you’ll likely know whether or not Fortress Real Development has applied for a new permit and if the city opted to grant it that permit.
I’m going to out on a limb here and make two predictions:
1. Fortress Real Development will apply for a new construction permit.
2. The city will hold a press conference to announce that their hands are tied and they had to grant that new permit.
Regardless of what happens — or never happens — a local group has formed online to help Reginans express their amazement at downtown’s developer-inflicted crater. Their event goes by the title of, “We all stare at the Capital Pointe Hole and say ‘Wow’ like Owen Wilson.” Already, over 500 people have committed to gather at the Capital Pointe site April 21 at 3 p.m. The schedule of activities is all there in the title.
To be honest, to think this project is ever going forward you’d have to be crazier than a road lizard.****
Goddammit, Capital Pointe, come on, stop, please. It’s embarrassing.
* I think the Mayor is referring here to the Halifax Holdings West LP development at 1914 Halifax Street which opened in February 2018 but, according to a Housing Incentive Policy report from May 2017, received a capital grant through the city’s Housing Incentive Program in 2016 or earlier. The primary way that the city is involved in supporting affordable housing is through that Housing Incentive program. It has supported multiple projects since 2006 and has given out $9.8 million in capital grants for affordable housing since 2011.
** When it was in effect, the condo rebate program reimbursed property tax to condominiums that don’t get their garbage picked up by city crews and instead have to pay a private contractor to collect their waste.
*** The Sandra Schmirler Leisure Centre roof is in a dire state and needs to be repaired this year so that it can function until it can be replaced. Mancinelli argued that by spending the $1.5 million now and moving up the replacement by a year the city could save itself the $100,000 cost of an interim repair. Sounds like good, long-term asset management but council balked at adding 0.67% back on to the 2018 property tax increase to fund it.
**** “To be honest” and “crazier than a road lizard” being other Owen Wilson-isms. Also, “goddammit” and “come on, stop, please. It’s embarrassing.”