Plan to provide free menstrual products stirs debate at HRM budget meeting
Council was surprised to see funding for the initiative not included in tax increase
January 23, 2020, 3:25 pm ASTLast Updated: January 23, 2020, 4:58 pm
Some Halifax Regional Municipality councillors at Wednesday’s budget committee meeting were frustrated to learn the plan to offer free tampons and pads at municipal facilities wasn’t incorporated into this year’s budget.
It was presented as an “over” item in the corporate and customer service operating budget, meaning it would increase the municipal tax rate if approved.
”I don’t like the way this was presented,” said Coun. Lorelei Nicoll during the discussion.
Coun. Tony Mancini agreed.
“Staff have missed the boat on understanding this one,” he said.
In the fall, the plan to offer free menstrual products was deferred until a supplementary report was completed.
HRM’s chief financial officer Jane Fraser said it’s a significant ask and a funding source needs to be identified. That report hasn’t come back to council yet.
The additional cost, more than $230,000, will now be discussed in February when the budget committee decides to either drop or add additional projects and funding requests.
Council questions need for more communications staff
The corporate and customer services budget presentation also included three new staff positions. One of those jobs is a digital strategist for the corporate communications office.
Coun. Shawn Clearly introduced a notice of motion asking that a $267,600 increase for that department be removed from the budget and added to February’s discussion. The decision came with a request for a report outlining the job titles and descriptions of the 22 full time equivalent (FTE) positions in the communications office.
“We need to communicate with our residents, but that’s a lot,” Cleary said.
The motion was approved.
During the meeting a corporate and customer services staff member said the new positions were the result of a consultant’s review that identified areas where the communications office could “up its game.”
The digital strategist would develop a program to manage HRM’s social media, including responses to service requests. Right now, it’s being done “off the corner of someone’s desk.”
Council also questioned whether the initiative to offer free menstrual products was becoming over-complicated by purchasing and installing dispensers.
“The library has got this solved, you don’t need fancy containers,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn.
The library offers the free products in a plastic bin on bathroom counters.
Jerry Blackwood, director for corporate and customer service, responded to council’s concerns and said that “timing was an issue here” and that staff were just following the process.
“I can assure council we are supporting that program,” he said.
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