Halifax regional council considers budget boost for parks and recreation

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Halifax regional council is considering adding an extra $2.8 million to its parks and recreation budget to help with the impact of COVID-19. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
Halifax regional council is considering adding an extra $2.8 million to its parks and recreation budget to help with the impact of COVID-19. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

Halifax regional council is considering adding about $2.9 million to its parks and recreation budget for 2021-22, most of it to deal with the impact of COVID-19.

Park officials initially proposed a budget of $32.8 million, which is an increase of $1.5 million more than last June's revised numbers.

But the president of Discover Halifax asked councillors to consider $600,000 to support events in downtown Dartmouth and downtown Halifax to attract visitors.

"There is an opportunity for a strong and rapid recovery of the tourism industry with the completion of the vaccination program," said Ross Jefferson. "We want to benefit from opening first, from being in the pole position."

Mayor Mike Savage supported the idea. He pointed out it was a one-time expense that could be covered by money in reserves or by increased federal funding.

"There's a return on investment, it helps us to help these industries," said Savage.

Multi-district recreational facilities, like the Halifax Forum, are projecting a $1.7 million deficit due to the pandemic's impact on programming and ability to rent space.
Multi-district recreational facilities, like the Halifax Forum, are projecting a $1.7 million deficit due to the pandemic's impact on programming and ability to rent space.(Robert Guertin/CBC)

The head of the parks and recreation department said the money would be used to set up stages for performances in the evenings and on weekends. There would also be $150,000 for COVID-safe community events across the municipality.

"People want to start to bring some events back, but they're worried about the costs associated with COVID," said department manager Denise Schofield. "So they've asked for a one time supplemental grant program."

Another $250,000 will go toward Discover Halifax's tourism plan and COVID-19 recovery.

Projected deficit

The municipality's multi-district recreational facilities are also projecting a $1.7 million deficit because of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on programming and the ability to rent space. They include Cole Harbour Place, the Zatzman Sportsplex, the Halifax Forum and the Canada Games Centre.

Councillor Sam Austin said the municipality should not accept money from Ottawa and the province to manage a restart and then not help those facilities.

"Where they've all seen drops in memberships, where they've all seen losses in rental revenue, it would be very disingenuous for us to turn around and basically mandate cuts in programs and services," said Austin.

Councillors also agreed to consider an extra $85,000 for a youth drop-in centre in Lower Sackville as well as $125,000 to share the costs of a piece of public art at the Queen's Marque along the waterfront.

A final decision on all the extra budget items councillors are considering is expected on April 20th.

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