On unexpected sidewalk snow removal and tax increases.

snow100short

I’m writing to let residents know about sidewalk snow removal and resultant tax increase that Council approved this week.

It is unfortunate and frustrating that this budget that in many other ways is a good budget that I am excited about and that originally was going to provide a 1.5% tax rate decrease for residents has now resulted in a 0.7% tax increase.

I voted against this service and tax increase and I want to tell you why.

Right now the service standard for HRM for Priority 3 sidewalks is 36 hours maximum, after a major snow event. Basically, if you are not currently plowed by the city, your street is a P3 and you will fall into this band.

To be fair, most of HRM that gets sidewalk snow removal gets snow clearing much faster than 36 hours, especially in a light snow. But most of HRM does not have tens of thousands of walkers walking to universities, downtown, hospitals each morning. P3 streets in the district experience much higher traffic than the rest of HRM, and indeed over 50% of us walk to work or school each day.

To date dozens of residents have emailed me about this, and while one or two have said they support the move because it will support seniors and help those with mobility issues, the majority are deeply upset.

These were my objections:

  • every other community got to vote on whether they wanted this.  Our area never wanted this.  Now we get a service we did not vote for that many of us do not want.
  • during a medium to heavy snowfall you may not see your sidewalk plowed for 36 hours after snow fall stops. So if snow stops falling mid day you might not have your sidewalk cleared until two days later, late at night.
  • our sidewalks are often right against the front of homes, our sidewalks are often narrow, I worry about damage not just to lawns and flower beds but stairs and decks.
  • most of us on busy sidewalks are out and shovelling by 7 or 8 am because we don’t want to wait until after the students and workers have crushed the snow down into a thick layer of ice
  • in much of HRM I have seen a standard that does not leave us with bare concrete, rather a thick layer of snow is left, that is then salted
  • the many condos and apartments in our district will pay significantly more tax even though the sidewalk in front of their buildings are relatively small
  • everyone will still be out shoveling their walks and driveways
  • streets without sidewalks in the district and all over HRM will pay the tax
  • taxes went up to pay for a service without time to consult the residents, many of whom do not want this service

Mostly, it was wrong for council to vote on this without time to consider, ask questions, come up with alternatives, and give staff the time to try and accomodate this without a tax increase. We should not have rushed in and we absolutely should not have raised taxes to do this.

As one resident wrote “I lived in Calgary, which has more money than Halifax, and we had to shovel our own sidewalks back there!”

Many of the justifiable social concerns could have been met through increased enforcement of the existing bylaw combined with a small increase to our already existing seniors snow removal program. I would also prefer a campaign to get people out to “help your neighbour” rather than see government provide this service.

Unfortunately motions to reconsider are not allowed under HRMs rules when it comes to a budget issue (AO1 Section 61 (8)), so it seems unlikely this can be reversed before the budget year.

I do encourage residents who feel strongly for or against this to write clerks@halifax.ca, and address the email to all of Council, their concerns can be shared with all of Council.

Also, comment here, or email me, and tell me what you think!  Maybe it will all work out. Maybe we will all be glad this happened. Or maybe we will have this discussion again next year.

UPDATE:

SIDEWALK SNOW REMOVAL STANDARDS
Priority 1
Main Arterials & Capital District – After 5 cm of accumulation, or the end of snowfall, whichever is less
12 hours from end of snowfall

Priority 2
School Routes and Transit Routes – After 10 cm of accumulation, or the end of snowfall, whichever is less
18 hours from end of snowfall

Priority 3
Residential Routes/ Walkways – After completion of first 2 priorities
36 hours from end of snowfall

http://halifax.ca/Works/streets/servicestand.html#Sidewalk

  • Here in Dartmouth I believe snow removal is a separate item on our tax bill. Is that how it will work on the Peninsula?

    • No, because what council did was take the separate item off, and put it into the general rate region wide. Your tax bill in Dartmouth will now go up a small amount to pay for snow removal in Halifax that many Haligonians do not want.

  • Also, I own property on the Peninsula and my tenants are responsible for snow removal. Needless to say, the sidewalk in Halifax is cleaned to the concrete days before the one in front of our house in Dartmouth. Enjoy your new – and very expensive – new service.

  • Laurie Clarke

    I don’t think it is right that the City has 36 hours to remove the snow but we have to do it right away but I am against this because I have a senior mother and a brother with a disability and cannot walk – he has homecare workers coming to the house every day to take care of him. They do not have to enter the houes if the sidewalk is not cleared for them for obvious safety reasons. Both my brother and mother have had to go to the ER by ambulance and I don’t expect the paramedics to have to trudge threw snow when it may be putting my family at risk. Having said all of this if the snow wasn’t cleared right away then I would have to do it and I would still be paying the tax – this is not fair.

    • Laurie Clarke

      spelling mistake – through the snow

  • Allison

    As a condo owner on the peninsula I continue to be discouraged by our tax structure. Halifax should be promoting high density housing in the core instead of continuing to slam us with taxes for services that do not apply to us.

  • Diane

    I am a South End resident and I am very very pleased that there is going to be snow removal by the city. For the tiny fee they are charging you could not even get snow removal by a private company ONCE for that. This is great for people who go on vacation or for women like me who were 8 months pregnant and supposed to be on bed rest forced by the city to do snow removal or there were going to charge a horrendous fee to do it themselves and for Seniors who are taking heart attacks doing snow removal or injuring their backs. If people are really upset about the 36 hour time wait then they can do it before but for the small extra amount they pay on the their tax that will cover the times they can’t snow shovel. Best of both worlds !!

  • George

    Allison, our taxes in HRM are extremely high. A $500,000 Condo in Halifax will cost you ~$6,110 in municipal taxes if you are a new buyer (no CAP) above and beyond Condo fees (which include another municipal item – water). The same $500,000 Condo will cost you approximately ~$2025 in Vancouver or ~$3085 in Calgary. On top of that HRM applies a 1.5% deed transfer tax if you sell your house.

    I simply do not understand why taxes are so high here – especially when you consider salaries are on average 20% lower and we have some of the highest income taxes in the country as well.

  • Marian Munro

    Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect bare pavement in winter? Passable does not have to mean bare. A lot more could be done to haul cars away, whose drivers have no common sense and park on a busy street to get to a business. Wait! Make the business owners pay to have snow banks removed.

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