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It was a funding bonanza at Halifax regional council Tuesday.
Funding requests for the YMCA ($1 million) and the hospice society ($500,000) proved controversial for different reasons, while a million dollars for the Link Performing Arts Centre and additional money for a snow removal program for seniors were slam dunks.
“The funding for the seniors, that program has become wildly popular,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn (Middle and Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville). “When we got the breakdown how many people there are in each district, I was quite surprised to find out that we’ve got 20 people out my way who take advantage of the program.”
There are 40 people across the municipality on a waiting list for the snow-removal service.
Council approved an increase of $200,000 to the program that removes snow for seniors and persons with disabilities. The total operating budget for the program is now $600,000, with funds coming from the Transportation and Public Works operational budget.
The snow-removal motion passed unanimously but councillors were less single-minded about referring a one-time contribution of $1 million to the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth for the replacement of a Y facility at the corner of South Park and Sackville streets. The Y would be part of a multi-use complex that would include 30,600 square feet of residential space, retail and office space and parking.
Some councillors struggled with the idea of providing funding for a building that would be a profit-maker and others seized on the staff statement that the project would go ahead without the municipality’s contribution.
“If it is just a matter of assuming debt, I am much more comfortable with the Y assuming that debt than us assuming debt,” said Coun. Richard Zurawski (Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park-Wedgewood).
Zurawski also took exception to contributing to an organization with Christian and young men in its name.
“It doesn’t talk about women, about Muslims, about Jews,” Zurawski said. “I don’t want to be affiliated with such an exclusionary association. I don’t feel comfortable even saying it (YMCA). We represent everybody.”
Councillors Steve Craig, Tim Outhit and Lindell Smith challenged Zurawski about the name.
“There are inclusive programs that people from all walks of life go to,” said Smith, adding that he had been involved with a number of programs and immigrant services at the Y in the past.
Smith then added an amemdment to the Y motion to address the concerns of councillors who didn’t think they were getting much in return for a million-dollar contribution. The original motion had the municipality entering into a contribution agreement with the Y that included five years of public benefit to the municipality, including facility passes, discounted meeting space and use of the facility track for a free walking program. Smith’s amendment included negotiating an agreement that better identified public benefit and community collaboration.
Both the amendment and the overall motion passed by a 15-2 vote.
“The final decision for the million for the Y is forthcoming,” Blackburn said Wednesday. “All we decided yesterday was to push it forward to have it as part of our budget discussions.”
The motion to provide $500,000 for the construction of a hospice facility on Francklyn Street was also fraught with controversy, not so much about the merits of the contribution but about the process that brought the motion back to council.
Council had already approved the funding but the audit and finance committee did not identify a funding source, sending it back to council.
“This is contempt for council,” said Coun. David Hendsbee (Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore), arguing that because council had made a previous decision, a committee decision should not bring it back to council. The role of standing committees became the focus of the debate.
“This is democracy in action,” said Coun. Bill Karsten (Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage), a member of the finance committee.
Council eventually voted 12-5 to support the hospice building with a $500,000 unbudgeted withdrawal from the contingency fund.
Council wrapped up its bonanza by approving a one-time contribution to the Link Performing Arts Society for capital costs relating to an arts centre facility in the former World Trade and Convention Centre on Argyle Street. The contribution is not to exceed 10 per cent of the overall capital project costs and not to exceed $1 million. The funding is to come from the general contingency fund and has not been included in the capital budget.