Budget, Cogswell, Roadwork, (EDIT) Parking Resumes June 1, Coronavirus Update #26

Hello residents! I am working hard this morning to get this update out so I can spend this afternoon on my back deck in the 25C heat and sun while participating via video in our budget discussion today. I hope you are able take time to enjoy today!

Regional Council and staff continue to work to close the budget gap that COVID-19 has created. The crux of the debate is whether to use reserves or debt to preserve staff positions and thus capacity, rather than enter into a prolonged hiring freeze.  I do not support a hiring freeze for the reasons I outlined in my last update.

Some departments will end up significantly understaffed if a hiring freeze occurs, in turn leading slowing development approvals, tendering contracts, and impacting the kind of pedestrianization changes that residents and restaurants are demanding during recovery. You can read about the kind of street closures and sidewalk widening that are being talked about here https://www.journalpioneer.com/business/regional-business/east-coast-cities-considering-street-closures-so-restaurants-can-extend-patios-452134/

Significant reductions to HRM operating and capital budgets will take place under any of the scenarios being debated, but the proposed tax rate remains unchanged in any of the scenarios being debated. 

An example of the kind of work that HRM and its affiliate are continuing to do while “closed” is summarized beautifully in this article in the Coast about the Library during COVID.  It really is amazing! https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/all-the-things-the-library-has-done-for-halifax-residents-since-shutting-its-doors-for-covid-19/Content?oid=24091596

In many cases, from policing to recreation, fire to libraries, demand for HRM services is higher than ever, so it is very challenging to cut operating budgets to find “savings.”

We are back at it at 1 pm today.

Cogswell District Energy

The Utility Review Board approved the first hurdle for the district energy plan for Cogswell!  While Cogswell is still delayed pending completing the final land transactions we heard from staff two days ago that we should get the initiation report to allow the project to be tendered this summer.  More on district energy here. https://www.saltwire.com/news/local/halifax-water-thermal-heating-plan-passes-first-hurdle-451582/

Roadwork

The following street closures or sidewalk disruptions are coming up:
•    PEPPERELL ST from VERNON ST to PRESTON ST, starting on 2020-05-25
•    ARGYLE ST from PRINCE ST to SACKVILLE ST, starting on 2020-05-25

Coronavirus Update #26 | May 22, 2020

I am getting a lot of messages asking if I know details about the Province’s plan for reopening and when municipal services might come back online.

The answer is I do not know.

I’ve seen Dr Strang give his consultative PowerPoint talk in three different meetings now, and it is not much different from what has leaked to the media a couple weeks ago. I think Dr Strang and the public health team have been doing an amazing job keeping Nova Scotians safe during this difficult period. People want certainty and details that are not there yet, and indeed the timing could change if we get a spike in cases.

Be warned though, just because the Province announces something now might be allowed does not mean that the organizations that provide the services are going to be ready to provide it the next day or even the next month.

We’ve had a bit of a pattern of the Province announcing things for an immediate effect (parks), or 24 hours notice (beaches), and most recently summer day camps might be allowed to open (no time set yet).

The cuts HRM has already done, the 1400 layoffs and seasonals, are field maintenance, lifeguards, rec programmers, and summer students who run day camps.  As described above the budget is challenging due to revenue reduction, and there was no way to pay people to sit around just in case maybe they could work in the future.

So fields are not being mowed and lines are not being painted for example.

Summer Day Camps will be delayed, if they are able to run at all

All this is to say that on day camps – we have not been told what that might look like, what a safe day camp might look like.  Once that is determined, it will be 4-6 weeks before those program changes can be implemented and staff recalled. Realistically the earliest I see camps opening if we got the go-ahead today is the start of the second week of July if that early.

Another note of caution – if day camps have restrictions in numbers – say half as many kids are allowed to attend per leader as would be normal – that creates two challenges.  First, these are cost recovery programs, so do we double the fee?  Is that just?  If we don’t, how do we pay for it?  The second problem is that the reason HRM does not offer more summer programs is that we have trouble finding enough youth who want to be camp leaders. We hire all the available youth already. So if it is reduced campers, then we will have fewer slots than normal.

There is also a very real question – will young employees, or the parents of the youth leaders be willing to let their kids teach these camps, and take that exposure?  What will those very real concerns do to HRMs ability to deliver these camps? Rec staff will do their best, but it is going to be tough. Please have patience.

“reopening” the economy

A number of business folks have taken to Twitter and various media outlets demanding the provincial government “reopen the economy.” Leaving aside that very little of the economy is ordered closed, only the parts that generally involve close contact and high risk of transmission, I am not sure it matters what the government does. I read this great article I strongly recommend, which starts by saying “Government Orders Alone Didn’t Close the Economy. They Probably Can’t Reopen It. Data shows there was a drop in spending and working even before any official mandates to stay at home.”

ny times graph comparing states that closed early to those with no closure

Even States in the US that never closed saw comparable declines. What reopens the economy isn’t a magic wand or a statement from the Premier. Leave aside the moral issue of telling people to get back to work if it is not safe, it is clear that workers will only return to work and they and their families will be safe. We are a long way from that. Until those conditions are met, nothing will really change. Again patience is required.  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/07/upshot/pandemic-economy-government-orders.html?searchResultPosition=6

Seniors housing and Long Term Care

I was interviewed about how we can adapt to supporting the elderly in safe housing post COVID, but I think the rest of the article is more interesting than my part… how do we improve our long term care facilities. https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/local/covid-19-could-change-the-way-long-term-care-facilities-are-designed-in-nova-scotia-452133/

Temporary washroom at Central Library.

HRM and Halifax Public Libraries have installed two temporary washrooms with handwashing stations on the plaza behind the Central Library. Library staff will be on-site to monitor the facilities and ensure safety guidelines are followed. Staff will also be providing snack packs and menstrual products to those in need. The toilets will be cleaned daily by the service provider. One toilet is accessible, and the back plaza is accessible. Both toilets are equipped with hand sanitizers.

Next week the accessible toilet will have a handwashing station installed (the lag is due to supply issues). I am pleased that this has gone forward. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

UPDATE BREAKING NEWS – Parking to resume normal operation June 1

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and in an effort to provide short-term support to essential workers, enforcement of paid and hourly parking was suspended across the municipality. Now that the Province has started to ease restrictions and businesses are resuming operations, and in accordance with draft recast revenue plan, enforcement of paid and hourly parking will resume effective June 1, 2020.

Services Impacted:

Meters: All parking meters will be “on” and enforced effective June 1 in all areas across the municipality. HotSpot will be reactivated and all meters will require payment. All bagged meters are enforced as well.

Time-restricted parking and loading: All time-restricted (1 hr., 2 hr. etc.) Parking and loading zones (temporary or permanent) will be timed and enforced effective June 1. New 15 minute parking zones have been installed in the business districts to facilitate the short- term pick up needs of restaurants and other business.

Accessible Parking: Remain enforced.

Permits: All parking permits expiring in March-June will remain valid until customer service centers re-open this includes Monthly and Residential Parking Permits. Parking Permit zones will be enforced. This service area will be revisited once Customer Service is able to resume operations.

Tow-away zones: Will continue to be enforced.

Bus Priority Lanes: Will resume enforcement.

Parking Tickets: Can be processed online https://www.halifax.ca/transportation/parking/parking-tickets/pay-online.

Residential and Commercial Parking control requests: Staff will continue to monitor, assess and implement requests working with colleagues in Traffic Services.