There’s extra money in this year’s federal budget for municipalities.
As a one-time thing, the Federal Gas Tax Fund is doubling. For Halifax, that means an additional $26 million to spend on infrastructure priorities.
“The recognition that we should have a relationship with the federal government directly is very encouraging,” said Mayor Mike Savage.
What exactly the money can be spent on is unclear, and Savage says he will be waiting on the federal government to provide more clear details. In the meantime, he says he’s already receiving ideas from both constituents and councillors.
“Since the rural residents pay a lot more gas tax then the urban residents, I’d like to see more rural investment done,” said District 2 councillor David Hendsbee.
He points to rural sidewalks and more park-and-ride terminals on the eastern shore as priorities for his constituents.
The municipality will also be receiving money from the Green Municipal Fund, which helps communities invest more in green energy. It’s something that Halifax has taken advantage of in the past, using the funds to help with the Solar City project which has helped to finance solar panels for about 5,000 properties.
“It’s going to generate in total about four gigawatt hours of energy,” said Kevin Boutilier, a Solar City officer with the municipality. “It’s about $600,000 in total savings for property owners. It’s also going to offset 24 hundred tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.”
And then there’s a commitment to rural internet. The budget lays out plans to ensure Canadians have access to high-speed internet at a minimum of 50/10 Mbps. The goal is to connect 90 per cent of Canadians by 2021, and 100 per cent by 2030 through an investment of about $1.7 billion over 13 years.
Currently about 30 per cent of Halifax Regional Municipality residents are not meeting that internet speed standard, something Hendsbee understands well. He says about one-third of his constituents have that issue.
“Some areas may have access to broadband, but it would be very limited speeds and some people still have dial up.”
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Work is already underway by Develop Nova Scotia to bring high-speed internet to rural communities. They recently issued a competitive call for organizations interested in providing solutions and had 11 respondents.
“The next step is we will issue a call for bids for solutions to actually deliver solutions to homes in rural communities,” said Debra Page of Develop Nova Scotia.
The province has put aside $193 million in an internet trust for the crown corporate to use, but Page says the federal funding will also be helpful.
“We know that it’s probably going to take between $300 and $500 million to tackle this project,” she said.
There is still no timeline from Develop Nova Scotia as to when more communities will be connected but Page says they are starting work this year and are hoping to connect Nova Scotians as soon as possible.
As for the federal project, the budget says a new national high-speed internet program will be starting between 2019-20.