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All Aboard the Gravy Train: Arts, Heritage, Street Beautification

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The Flat Iron Mural, by Derek Besant. Photo by aljuarez from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Due to budgetary pressures, the City commissioned KPMG to evaluate municipal programs and services and compile a list of which could be cut, or cut back. The results of those findings are being released in a series of reports this month. Each day a report is released, All Aboard the Gravy Train will look at what, in our current administration, is considered expendable.

Report for: Planning and Growth Management [PDF]
Not Gravy: 77 per cent of services in this area described as “mandatory,” that is, ones the municipal governments must provide. Of the remainder, 22 per cent are “traditional,” or services municipalities typically provide, and just 1 per cent are described as “discretionary.”
“Gravy”:

  • That discretionary 1 per cent goes to the City’s public art programs, including the Percent for Public Art program, which works with private sector developers to incorporate public art into their projects. The City could consider eliminating public art programming, though the report notes that it “appears to generate substantial investment in public art at modest costs to the City.” (Gross spending in this area is $1.9 million.)
  • The Public Realm Improvement Program, which incorporates beautification projects into existing City construction projects (for instance, by making improvements to Roncesvalles’ streetscape while that street was being rebuilt) could be scrapped, as the report finds that “the Public Realm improvements program goes beyond what some cities do.” On the downside, the report states, “eliminating these services will impact the look and dynamism of the city.” (Gross cost of this program: $1.85 million.)
  • Heritage programs. The City could consider reducing the Heritage Grant Program (which offsets the cost of conservation work on designated Heritage properties) and the Heritage Property Tax Rebate Program (which offsets the cost of paying taxes on Heritage properties). Both programs are designed “to encourage the conservation of heritage properties in the City of Toronto” and so KPMG notes that eliminating them “may make it more difficult to convince owners to retain heritage buildings.” (Gross cost of these programs: $1.85 million.)
  • Planning department services. “There are opportunities to make the planning processes less complex and more consistent which will both reduce costs and the time required to process applications,” the report finds. It goes on: “This will limit the extent and duration of public discussion in some cases. It could also limit the amount of free information provided to proponents.” Currently, the report finds that “applications [are] not consistently processed within target time frames—this is generally due to more extensive circulation, public involvement and discussion than required.” In addition to the public engagement element, should the City streamline the planning process, this “could speed up processing of applications, but could lead to sub-optimal outcomes.”
  • Public information on building projects. The City could “consider reducing information being explained to the public, or charging for the service (example: reduce provision of zoning information provided).” This, it goes on to note, “could provoke a reaction from the public.”
  • Sign by-law enforcement. KPMG finds that “the proactive inspections to identify possible breaches of the sign by-law could be reduced or eliminated,” as it is not a provincially legislated form of inspection. “However,” it goes on to note, “reduced proactive inspections may undercut effectiveness of the sign tax and negatively affect capacity to collect sign tax. It could also negatively affect the City goal of cleaning up illegal signs and sign clutter.” This cut would have low potential savings (an estimate which does not include potential lost revenue).

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