As many of you may have heard, City Manager Joseph Penachetti announced details of his final report on the Core Service Review that will be considered at the Executive Committee on September 19th and will be debated at city council on September 26th.
The report contains over $100 million in proposed budget cuts for 2012 and was delivered via a media briefing before elected councillors had an opportunity to see the document. Moreover, it was released during Community Council day when all councillors were busy attending to local matters impacting their wards. Sadly, this undemocratic process lent itself to a battle of sound bites rather than to a thoughtful, contemplative and evidence-based assessment on Monday.
Some of the recommendations put forward by the City Manager include:
- Reduce new affordable housing
- A reduction of subsidized child care spaces
- Eliminate or charge a premium fare for Blue Night (late night) bus and streetcar network
- Close City museums with low attendance
- Eliminate animal pick-up and delivery to shelters, except in emergency
- Reduce snow clearing and grass cutting in parks
- Closing some (non-specified) library branches
- Paid Duty police presence at construction sites
- Eliminating horticultural activities
- Outsource or eliminate zoos and farms including the Toronto Zoo and Riverdale Farm
- Eliminate Environment Days
- Eliminate 4 free garbage bag tags
- Eliminate the Hardship fund which provides medical products to low-income residents
- Dental care for low-income residents
- Reduce or eliminate grants funding for arts and community organizations
- To read the full report, click here
I plan to present a more detailed analysis of this document to Executive Committee and full Council in the coming weeks, along with constructive suggestions, but I would like to share my initial impressions with you. Frankly, I find it irresponsible to propose cutting childcare spaces without a plan in place to support families that rely on this crucial service. While I am in full agreement that the province should provide the funds to deliver childcare, we have a duty to ensure that families are still able to work knowing that their kids are in a safe, affordable and structured environment. The elimination of the Blue Night bus network would unfairly impact those least able to cope with substantive restrictions to their mobility. Many Torontonians do not operate in a 9 to 5 workplace and would be left with few means of getting to and from work if this service was cut.
The elimination of medical and dental services for low-income Torontonians are probably best delivered at the provincial level but, like with childcare, I believe we have an ethical responsibility to deliver those services until an alternative funding arrangement is found.
I will not support any cuts that would diminish Toronto's already underfunded and vital arts and culture community. I find it puzzling that the report recommends eliminating Toronto International Film Festival funding while it is being celebrated and generating revenue for the local economy. Our arts and culture events showcase Toronto to the world and contribute to making our city a global centre.
I will also not support reducing the work done by the Toronto Environment Office (TEO) and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund which, in many cases, have saved the City significant money while contributing to protecting our natural environment and public health. I am open to finding new ways to contribute to the programs the TEO offers outside of the property tax base.
Lower standards for Municipal Licensing and Standards enforcement, Toronto’s planning department, and heritage preservation, the closing of library branches along with several other items, I know would be of great concern to the residents of our community.
To offset the proposed service reductions and to ensure that we do have a balanced budget, Council must finally have an adult, responsible, and thoughtful conversation about revenue sources while considering precision, not reckless, potential cuts and efficiencies. This should have been done concurrently.
I submit the City should carefully consider the possibility of toll roads. Tolls would be collected from those in the 905 who commute to our city each day via the Gardiner and DVP, which have been wholly paid for and maintained by Toronto residents’ tax base since being downloaded by the Harris government. This new revenue should directly offset the burden our public transit system has on the overall operating budget. The City should move to collect on millions of dollars in Provincial Offences Act tickets from the Ontario government that are estimated to be $40 million a year. The City could also eliminate paid duty police officers from construction sites, replace them with wardens, and rationalize some services online, including other cuts and efficiencies that would not have an adverse impact on Torontonians. The aforementioned initiatives, coupled with a modest property tax increase, along with reasonable increases in some user fees, could remove the need for most of the draconian proposals contained in the report.
In recent weeks the City Manager has made recommendations, including those in support of an ill-conceived new plan for the Portlands, that have not included substantive information nor the data needed for Council to make an informed decision. Mr. Pennachetti's recommendations on the Core Service Review seem to only recognize the services that the City is legislatively mandated to provide rather than what Torontonians expect from their municipal government. Despite the poor decision to release the report in such an ill-considered fashion, and the strong concerns I have about the proposals, I will review each one in great detail with regard to their impact on the City budget and, most importantly, how residents who rely on these services will be affected by the decisions council makes.
We must thoughtfully review our City services and collective agreements with our employee groups and make difficult decisions to ensure our city’s solvency for years to come. But this study should be done responsibly, with regard to context rather than arbitrary numbers, with a genuine public consultation process, with a statement of ethics and values and given the appropriate time to be done well and without ideological pursuits.
For me, this is not about a contest of right versus left. I simply will not support any measure that is clearly wrong for our city and its residents.
I will continue to work with all of my colleagues, from every political perspective, in order to find solutions. I will also be sure to keep you updated on where we go from here. Meanwhile, please feel very welcome to offer me your feedback as your opinions are important and helpful.
For more information, please click here to listen to my interview on CBC Radio's Here and Now on this issue.
Toronto City Councillor
Ward 22, St. Paul's