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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
SIDEWALK SNOW REMOVAL STANDARDS
Main Arterials & Capital District – After 5 cm of accumulation, or the end of snowfall, whichever is less
12 hours from end of snowfall
School Routes and Transit Routes – After 10 cm of accumulation, or the end of snowfall, whichever is less
18 hours from end of snowfall
Residential Routes/ Walkways – After completion of first 2 priorities
36 hours from end of snowfall