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All Aboard the Gravy Train: Libraries, TTC Service, Affordable Housing, Community Grants

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Photo by apta_2050 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: Executive Committee [PDF]. This grouping includes major entities such as the Toronto Police Service, the TTC, the Toronto Library Board, and the Toronto Zoo Board.
Gravy:

  • TTC. The transit commission could: cut blue line night service; privatize some transit routes; and contract out cleaning and maintenance. In general, KPMG finds that “TTC service levels were increased in recent years through the provisions of the Ridership Growth Strategy. Some of the increased service levels could be scaled back to a sustainable level [... ] including changes to the crowding standard and the minimum service frequency standard.” The report goes on: “These changes would reduce convenience and travel flexibility for some customers, and would reduce total ridership levels. Elimination of Blue Night network of buses would be a major inconvenience to a relatively small number of customers. Raising/doubling of fares on Blue Night routes would be an alternative way to offset high costs of service delivery.”
  • Libraries. These “could be reduced by reducing the number of branches and/or constraining the hours of service.” The report states that up to 20 per cent savings could be found in this area—meaning that library services could be scaled back by one-fifth, according to KPMG. Programs and outreach activities (which “support early literacy skills and foster a love of reading and learning for all ages”) could be reduced or eliminated. (750,220 people participated in these programs last year.) The report predicts that “Residents may strongly disagree with library closures and participation/visitation rates may drop.” The Toronto Archives could also be consolidated with the library system.
  • The Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which “focuses on those projects that will, directly or indirectly, make a significant contribution to improving local air quality and/or result in significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the City of Toronto.” Were this cut implemented “grants and programs promoting clean air and climate solutions would not be issued.” TAF is not funded through Toronto’s tax base, the report notes, and thus “there would be no net saving to the City, but the capital fund ($23 million) would be available for other purposes.”
  • The Community Partnership and Investments Program, which issues grants to community organizations, could be eliminated. In 2010 CPIP issued grants to organizations ranging from the AIDS Committee of Toronto and the Yorkminster Park Meals on Wheels to Harbourfront and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. CPIP funds 42 AIDS prevention projects, 38 community drug prevention projects, and 465 school communities. The CPIP 2011 budget report noted that “every $1.00 of City investment is matched by $10.00 from individual donors, foundations, fundraising, corporate donors and other levels of government,” and today’s KPMG report found that these grant services are traditional (i.e. other comparable municipalities provide them) and that Toronto is currently delivering these at (but not above) standard. It goes on to note that this cut could have the downside of “potentially impacting vulnerable individuals. [...] Community programs could be compromised through the elimination of this service. Programs funded through these services would end. Care for the homeless may degrade.”
  • The Metro Toronto Zoo “could be restructured as a self-supporting non-profit corporation, or sold to private owners.”
  • Exhibition Place. The City could “divest of Exhibition Place assets and/or privatize operations.” However, the report goes on to note, “Investment in these facilities generate a positive economic impact for Toronto. Additionally, the Agency indicates that over the last four years Exhibition Place has delivered to the City total surplus over budget of $8.914 million.”
  • The Parking Authority could sell off-street parking facilities, although, the report notes, “this would eliminate the ongoing revenue stream. [...] Trading a well-managed, highly performing asset for lump sum payment versus ongoing annual revenue stream may not be an effective option.”
  • Wheel-trans could be scaled back as the conventional TTC system becomes more accessible. Additionally, the City could “review eligibility criteria for Wheel-Trans participants to make it stricter, thereby lowering total demand.”
  • Affordable housing supports. The City could consider eliminating the Housing Improvement Loans program and the New Affordable Housing Development service, though KPMG notes this would entail losing funds from other levels of government. Additionally, “there are opportunities to reduce or eliminate the capacity to develop new affordable housing given the low level of senior government funding,” the report finds. However, it goes on, this “would result in less activity aimed at responding to homelessness, housing needs.”
  • Heritage Toronto “might be more cost-effective as an independent agency. [...] A different business model may result in the broadening of donation sources and offer increased flexibility to grow the team.” The report goes on to caution that “any transition to independent agency or a different business model should take place carefully so as to protect the successes and growth of the program.”
  • Police services. We could “consider reducing service level for [...] By-law Enforcement, Parking Enforcement, Pounds and Towing Management.” Administratively, the report finds that there are potential savings if the City were to “consider a business process based approach to improving efficiency and effectiveness of front line services.” Other opportunities listed include lifting the requirement that officers be at construction sites, moving to some one-officer patrols, and reducing salaries in benefits in future negotiations with the police union. Regarding the biggest cost—the sheer size of the police force—KPMG notes that “compared to other Ontario municipalities, Toronto has a low total crime rate, low crime clearance rate and a lower number of criminal code incidents/workload per officer.” However, since police service levels are determined by the province, no savings opportunities were listed regarding shrinking the size of the force itself.
  • The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, and the Toronto Centre for the Arts could be sold, or their operation could be integrated with the other theatres under a common board. KPMG finds that “Although there are many cities in North America that own and operate civic theatres, the investment in professional theatres is a discretionary service.” However, the report goes on to note, this “may impact initiatives to reinforce Toronto as a theatre centre, with negative impact on economic development. There is a view that municipal theatre makes an essential contribution to cultural development of the City.”
  • The dental health program. The report describes this as “a last resort program for people who do not have access to dental care due to financial reasons and have an urgent treatment need.” Were the program cut, this would mean that “Some seniors and children/youth wouldn’t get dental treatment, with associated health implications. Negative impact to direct health outcomes, as well as longer-term social outcomes with participant more likely to remain on social assistance longer.”

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