By Richard Bell
Gravel roads are slowly disappearing across rural Halifax, as HRM and the province pave their way outward from the city core. In December, District 2 Councillor David Hendsbee held an informational meeting on a proposal to pave 14 gravel roads (see list below).
Property owners at the meeting raised questions about how HRM selected roads, how much it would cost, whether they had any say, and what could people on tight budgets do to absorb the higher taxes.
To begin with, HRM doesn’t actually pay for the roads. The province pays 50%, and HRM then charges the other 50% to the affected property owners as a Local Improvement Charge to be paid off over 10 years.
HRM regulations pay lip service to the affected owners. There are “two levels of project approval with respect to local improvements namely, Council and the affected property owners. This report recommends approval from property owners receiving the local improvement, who collectively own a minimum of 50% of the total frontage, be required prior to a project going to tender.”
But then it turns out that Council has the power, on the recommendation of the local Councillor, to overrule the views of the property owners: “Council may initiate or proceed with a project without this approval [the 50% minimum], if Council determines it is required based on consideration of HRM’s best interests and the local improvement charges will still apply.”
In a phone interview, Hendsbee explained that the next step in the process will be to send out a survey to all the property owners to find out if they want their roads paved, and if so, which of three different methods would they like HRM to use to assess the cost.
As far as deciding what roads go on the paving list, Hendsbee said that HRM started by looking at where the province was already planning to do work on provincial roads. Since the province already has the heavy equipment in place, there are significant cost savings and economies of scale to be had by working on gravel roads adjacent to the provincial projects.
For people on tight budgets, HRM does have hardship provisions that allow a homeowner to apply for a “Deferral of Local Improvement Charges.” With a deferment, you can put off paying the charge without accumulating further interest on the outstanding amount. But each deferral only lasts one year, so you have to remember to send in a new deferral request every year. HRM gets its money back if you transfer the title to another owner. And the total amount you’re allowed to defer cannot be more than 75% of the assessed value of your property.
Getting an advance estimate of the cost is basically not possible. Hendsbee said that HRM does not supply such estimates. “HRM doesn’t know until well after the paving is completed what the total cost is,” Hendsbee said. “That’s why people don’t get their first invoice until a year after the work is done. The best way to get a rough estimate is to look at the cost of the most recently completed project.”
Roads to be Paved
Post Office Road, Porters Lake
Millside Drive, Porters Lake
Loriann Drive, Porters Lake
Arthur Road, Porters Lake
Tower Road, Head of Chezzetcook
Conrod Settlement Road extension, Conrod Settlement
Hawes Drive, Conrod Settlement
Shelly Crescent, Gaetz Brook
Lakehill Drive, Gaetz Brook
Pleasant Drive extension, Gaetz Brook
Loughran Drive, Head of Chezzetcook
Mary Etta Drive, Head of Chezzetcook
Chris Cait Drive, Musquodoboit Harbour
Little River Drive, Musquodoboit Harbour