By Hilary Beaumont
The largest snowstorm to hit Halifax this season has resurrected a debate that dates back to amalgamation. And depending on council’s upcoming budget decisions, it’s either costing property owners or pedestrians.
In some areas of the municipality, like Clayton Park, Fairview, Rockingham and Wentworth, it’s the responsibility of the city to clear snow from sidewalks. Residents in these areas pay extra property tax for sidewalk snow removal.
In other areas, including Armdale, Purcell’s Cove, Spryfield and most of the peninsula, residents are expected to clear their own sidewalks. If not, HRM may charge the property owner for snow removal, or even ticket them.
Along major arteries and bus routes—Robie Street, for instance—HRM does clear sidewalks.
Currently residents in areas with city snow removal pay an additional property tax of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a $200,000 property, that’s $30.
Now, under HRM’s active transportation plan, the city is considering extending the service to the entire city. According to the Audit and Finance Standing Committee’s draft Transportation and Public Works budget report (PDF), which goes before Council Wednesday, extending the service would cost $23 million each year.
It’s too early in the process to say whether this cost would be passed on to property owners or absorbed by the municipality.
Another cost could be the city’s active transportation goals. North end resident Michelle Skelding says the lack of sidewalk plowing in her neighbourhood discourages her from walking.
On Sunday night around 9:30, Skelding was walking home from the Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen Street—a walk that usually takes her 10 minutes.
Skelding estimates about a third of sidewalks were shoveled in her mainly residential neighbourhood. She crossed the street several times to avoid the deep snow. As she reached the corner of Creighton and Cunard streets, she stopped in her tracks, snapped a photo of the mountain of snow in front of her and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “Halifax, why you no plow sidewalks?”
Not only were the sidewalks not shoveled, but the plows hired by HRM to clear the streets had also blocked crosswalks with large piles of snow.
“They’re making it convenient for cars, but with pedestrians they could care less,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Skelding decided to walk on the street instead.
The entire four-block walk, and the couple minutes to snap and share the photo, took about 20 minutes.
To get around the city, Skelding generally walks or takes the bus. She doesn’t own a car.
Skelding is doing exactly what HRM hopes more Halifax residents will do. According to the Active Transportation section of the city website:
“We live in a society where people are less active, pollution is on the rise and health concerns are increasing. By providing a variety of options to the general public we can encourage more active lifestyles and decrease the reliance upon the automobile.
Many people will walk as part of their journey to work, while others will use active modes for the entire trip. However, many won’t due to time constraints, lack of facilities at their (sic) desitnation, or concerns over safety. However, if safe, well-connected routes, with end of trip facilities were available that encouraged active transportation, then it would be more viable.”
“I’m prepared for the elements, but when I have to walk through snowbanks to try and get to where I need to be, it’s too much,” Skelding says.
When asked about the tax hike, she was concerned landlords might pass the cost along to tenants. She said she would rather deal with the snow than a rent increase.
Skelding’s area councillor Jennifer Watts, said she heard from residents before and after the storm concerning sidewalk snow removal. Some of them, like seniors who may not be able to shovel, were adamant the city should clear the sidewalks. But others argued they don’t want the property tax hike associated with snow removal; they would rather do it themselves.
Watts said residents should be able to vote on the issue by district. One vote, in District 9, Armdale-Peninsula West, could take place as early as April. Watts will be watching closely to see whether something similar could be possible in her north end Halifax district.
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