CBRM Council Part One: Quick Hits

I needed three electronic devices and one notebook to follow last night’s CBRM council proceedings from home.

I tuned into the livestream on my phone and cast it to my television, but the image was flickering so badly I was afraid it might trigger a light-induced seizure, so I opened the council agenda on my laptop and read the slide presentations there instead.

Although reading the slides on my laptop wasn’t easy either because they look like this:

(I suggest in Part Two of my Council coverage that slides reproduced for distribution at CBRM Council are photographed underwater and I am not entirely sure I’m kidding.)

As it happened, this particular slide was not needed as CBU President and Vice-Chancellor David Dingwall couldn’t make last night’s meeting and will have to reschedule.

Dingwall wasn’t the only one MIA last night — Mayor Cecil Clarke disappeared during Halifax Councilor Waye Mason’s presentation on lifting the CAP and hadn’t returned by the time I stopped watching the meeting at 9:00 PM.

But other people were there and discussions were had and decisions were made last night and — other than the healthcare presentations, which I’ve covered in a separate article — here are the items that struck me:

 

CAP & Cannabis

I don’t know anything about Halifax municipal councilor Waye Mason, the current president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM), but he gives a good presentation. (A fact noted by more than one CBRM councilor last night).

What Mason had to say about the distorting effects of the CAP system (which the Spectator has written about at length) was admirably succinct: if you’re saving a dollar on your taxes thanks to the CAP it’s because somebody else in your community is paying a dollar more than their share.

He also quoted the mayor of Yarmouth, Pam Mood, who calls the CAP a “newcomer and new buyer” tax, as it is lifted when a house is sold. District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall, who just bought a house, said the former owners left the tax bill for them so they’d know what to expect, but with the CAP lifted they will pay almost double that rate. She also noted that in addition to discouraging new buyers, it has the effect of discouraging people from downsizing.

Mason noted that his own taxes were 30% lower than those of his neighbors, who lived in a very similar house.

His message was well received but he was effectively preaching to the choir — the CBRM has led the way in asking the provincial government to phase out the system. Mason gave council an update on the NSFM’s efforts to convince the provincial government to do this, but it seems to be still a work in progress. They hope to see legislation introduced in the House of Assembly this fall.

Mason also discussed the cannabis excise tax issue — more specifically, securing 25% of it for municipalities.

I had to educate myself on the excise tax and discovered that, according to the tax consultancy MNP:

The federal government originally proposed that the excise tax would be split 50 / 50 with the participating provinces but the December 2017 agreement with the provinces increased the provincial share to 75 percent. The federal government will keep the remaining 25 percent. However, that sum will be capped annually at $100 million for the first two years after legalization. Beyond that, any federal revenue in excess of $100 million would go back to provinces and territories. In turn, the government expects a large portion of this revenue to go to municipalities and local communities which are on the front lines of implementation and contending with the many attendant costs associated with legalization. [emphasis mine]

Mason says Mark Furey, the justice minister overseeing the legalization of cannabis in Nova Scotia, has said excise tax funds must first be directed to covering the “startup” costs associated with selling cannabis in NSLC outlets, including “leasehold improvements” to those outlets, and that municipalities must wait.

Mason says he thinks the NSLC should pay for the leasehold improvements from its increased profits due to cannabis sales. (And given the organization is only selling pot at nine outlets, how high could the startup costs actually be? That’s me, not Mason.)

The only annoying part of this, for me, was the suggestion that a good way for municipalities to use the excise tax would be to pay to train police officers to detect cannabis impairment.

I would say our police department, like the NSLC, should find that training funding in its own (massive) budget and let us use the excise tax money for something — anything — else.

 

Mobile Market

Perhaps some of that cannabis excise tax money could be put into the “mobile market” that District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald mentioned in passing last night.

Apparently it’s in the early stages, but it’s a plan that involves Cape Breton Transit, the United Way and the Cape Breton Food Hub.

I presume it’s a way of bringing healthy food to people who might otherwise find it hard to access. I will have to find out more about it, obviously, but until I do I’m going to assume it will look like a Colombian Chiva bus because — why not?

 

Chant’s meeting

Council also had to vote on whether to proceed with a public hearing on a request from Sydney funeral home director Sheldon Chant to “repeal and replace the Development Agreement” in effect for his funeral home at 554 Alexandra Street. (A building I will forever think of as “the Alexandra Street Co-op.”)

This particular development agreement dates to 2003.

In her report to council, planner Karen Neville explained that “sometime between 2003 and 2006” Chant removed “the majority of the trees” from the rear of the property and filled it in to “provide additional parking.”

Chant then acquired an adjacent property and “sometime between 2008 and 2011” removed “the majority of trees” and filled it in to “provide additional parking.”

This work apparently caused “stormwater flooding of private property” which the CBRM attempted (unsuccessfully, apparently) to discuss with Chant. In 2013, the municipality threatened legal action against him for failing to comply with the conditions of his development agreement. Nothing seems to have come of this. In 2016, Councilor Eldon MacDonald (who is figuring largely in my council report this month) received a complaint about the funeral home from a neighbor, as a result of which the councilor and the municipal development officer met with Chant to discuss the possibility of providing access to (but not parking for) the funeral home via an adjacent piece of CBRM land.

Chant was asked to provide a revised site plan for this project which he finally did in 2018 (the delay was caused in part by stormwater plans by Public Works, apparently). But Chant is currently in violation of the following conditions of the development agreement:

My favorite line from the report is this:

As artistic renderings of site developments have proven to be quite problematic to interpret, prior to moving forward with this application, the applicant should be required to submit a scaled drawing of the proposal, prepared by a licensed NS Surveyor, that are in real world coordinates.

(I wonder what “world” the coordinates for the artistic renderings referenced? Narnia? Middle Earth?)

Neville recommended that council schedule a public hearing to consider replacing and repealing Chant’s development agreement.

And then things got salty.

Councilors Steve Gillespie and Jim MacLeod noted that Chant not only has ignored the CBRM’s rules for over a decade, he is currently without a license to operate as a result of a recent fire at the funeral home, the cause of which remains under investigation.

Gillespie wanted to defer the motion to another time, after Neville admitted to him that it has “been a challenge to get compliance” from Chant in the past.

Aerial view of Chant's Funeral Home.

Aerial view of Chant’s Funeral Home.

But Councilor Amanda McDougall said she wanted to hear from the residents around the funeral home and the only way to do that was to hold a meeting and Councilor Eldon MacDonald (in whose district the business is located) said he had faith that the staff of the CBRM would ensure compliance this time.

Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger, for his part, said he had to put his faith in the area councilor who has been talking to residents over time and understands the situation best.

Councilor Kendra Coombes said she appreciated that her fellow councilors had presented “two good” (albeit, opposing) arguments but that she too was willing to say yes so as to have an opportunity to hear residents.

Councilor Earlene MacMullen said she too wanted to hear from residents and that “to stall” the process wouldn’t help them. That said, she noted that the problems had been ongoing for 16 years and although she recognized the business was a good one, “We can’t be held hostage by it.”

Council then voted in favor of holding the public hearing, with only Gillespie and MacLeod voting against the motion.

 

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