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All Aboard the Gravy Train: Nature, Parks, and the Toronto Environment Office


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: Parks and Environment [PDF]
Not Gravy: 85 per cent of services in this area described as “essential” or “mandatory.”
“Gravy”:

  • The whole notion of parks and environment. From the report’s introduction: “While some services within the two programs are being delivered at levels somewhat below standard, the majority fall into the Standard+ category. Furthermore, the vast majority of standards have been set by Council or management. As a result, the Committee may consider reducing levels of service and reviewing set standards in order to realize cost savings.” The report later notes that “Toronto has less parkland per capita than other Ontario cities, and spends more per hectare of parkland to maintain it, both of which are consistent with the much higher population density,” and that 59 per cent of us visit a park at least once a week.
  • Parks and facilities maintenance. These could be contracted out—to the private sector or to groups which use the parks (e.g. have sports associations bear responsibility for maintaining the fields on which they play)—and service standards (for instance, when snow is cleared or grass is cut) could be reduced.
  • Zoo and farm attractions. These programs, such as Riverdale Farm, could be eliminated. “These are ‘above-standard’ services,” the report finds, “but enjoyed by many residents.”
  • Urban agriculture and horticultural programs. These could be eliminated. For instance, the report states that horticultural activities “are not related to maintaining the safety of Toronto parks” and therefore are expendable. Similarly, urban agriculture programs are not strictly necessary.
  • Trees. We could have fewer of them, reducing the “target canopy cover…allowing a lower rate of new tree planting and maintenance of existing trees.” The report notes that the City is not currently meeting its own service levels—which could either mean we should put more money into this to meet the standards we’ve already set, or lower the standards to meet what we’re doing, depending on your point of view. As the report states, “Trees add to the quality of the urban environment.”
  • Toronto Environment Office. The TEO “addresses the environmental priorities of the community and the [City] by: supporting the growth of Toronto’s green economy; providing research and policy expertise; establishing and leveraging policy and program partnerships…and delivering tools and resources to engage Toronto residents and businesses in adopting sustainable lifestyles and business practices.” This could be cut entirely; the report finds that “activities of the Toronto Environmental Office are largely non-core and could be eliminated, albeit with some damage to Toronto’s record and reputation in the environmental field.”

Comments

  • istoronto

    Once these reports are all released, RoFo will come out and say, hey I promised not to cut any services, but look at what the “experts” are suggesting. In the end, we'll have major service cuts based on Ford's ideologies and major tax increases to cover any shortfalls. Ford will then play the “it was all Miller's fault card”. And his supporters will cheerful go on supporting him. 

  • http://jameskoole.com James Koole

    *face buried in hands*

    Parks are gravy? Riverdale Farm is gravy? High Park is gravy? Flowers in our public gardens are gravy? Sports fields (probably not football, though) are gravy? Bike lanes are gravy? Trees are gravy? Green initiatives are gravy? Recycling is gravy?

    I see now how Mayor Ford was led to believe that we're swimming in gravy in Toronto. Everything is gravy to him.

  • http://twitter.com/svanegmond Stephen van Egmond

    When you say 85% of the services are “essential”, can you clarify: 85% of the spending? if not, 85% of what?

    Also, if this is re: spending, what is the budget? If the dept's budget is $20MM, then $3M is “gravy”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5QE6EGHDRGWO2RVB6VSCJGPEKM Kevin

    “Parks and facilities maintenance. These could be
    contracted out—to the private sector or to groups which use the parks
    (e.g. have sports associations bear responsibility for maintaining the
    fields on which they play).”

    By this logic, can we expect KPMG to suggest maintenance of roads be supported by the groups which use the roads (e.g. car drivers bear responsibility for maintaining the roads on which they play)?

    As it stands now, all property tax payers in Toronto (drivers or not) help pay for our roads, yet we don't all use them equally – just like football fields. Road tolls fairly allow road maintenance to be supported by the groups which wear them down the most.

    Seems like perfectly agreeable RoFo capatalism to me; if you want it, you pay for it.

  • Matt Crane

    Where does their definition of “standard” come from?? 

    Hey all, forget being a world class and destination city, let's make Toronto perfectly “standard”.  Maybe we can make next year's Forbes list of “America's Most Boring Cities”.

  • Matt Crane

    How do you think RoFo got accolades when he was just a university drop-out in his Daddy's sign printing biz meetings??   He probally learned that pointing to anything as extra $ that could be profit was a great way to score points.  Now he's doing it as mayor and everything is gravy!

  • http://twitter.com/mark_dowling Mark Dowling

    Interestingly, KPMG seem to deem stuff legally mandated by the Province as “standard”.  They should describe it as “mandated”, with services *generally* provided by Ontario municipalities beyond legal minima as “standard”

    By that benchmark, flowers in parks are “standard”, David Miller's proposal that Toronto would have its own weather office not so much.

  • HamutalDotan

    Yes, 85% of the programs and services offered by these departments, as measured by how much they spend.

    The budget figures in the report weren't entirely clear (for instance, it lists the report lists the net budget of Urban Forestry separate from that of the Parks dept. even though the former is a branch of the latter) but will try to get savings estimates from City staff.

  • http://randex.org/ Mark Wickens

    Really, what *has* our great city come to when we can’t force everyone to pay for truly essential services like “farm attractions” and environmental activism. Ashamed.

  • EDMUNDOCONNOR

    I strongly doubt that even if all the cuts suggested were enacted, we'd get even half-way to the magic $774M number.

    This consultation was never about slaying the deficit. It was a device used by Ford and his allies to get the conversation to “what should we cut?” rather than “should we cut at all?” This whole exercise, and the buy-outs, are merely softening up the ground to the lay-offs that are coming in the new year.

  • EDMUNDOCONNOR

    Maybe because some people like their city not to be some concrete hellhole, perchance?

  • http://piorkowski.ca qviri

    You're right, as long as we still force everyone to pay for the Gardiner and the DVP the city should be A-OK.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    The worst thing about Riverdale Farm is that poor people can visit it! Their kids have different-coloured skin and some of them even speak accented English! Can you imagine little Timmy and Lucy petting goats next to such riff-raff? How dare the City support such filthy enterprises in which our precious darlings might possibly rub shoulders with the I-shudder-to-think-of-it-but-probably-quite-literally-unwashed masses?

  • andrew97

    I see what you did there.

    Riverdale Farm does seem like kind of a luxury, compared to e.g. public libraries. I say this as someone who has visited and enjoyed the farm.

  • z00m3r

    I suppose “[having] sports associations bear responsibility for maintaining the fields on which they play,” is a pretty good idea. Contracting out most of City services to private for-profit companies, though, will likely turn the city into a giant McDonalds stand.

  • andrew97

    Can I be honest here? As a guy who thinks Rob Ford is an embarrassment and a tool, I think the results of this audit are interesting, and I'm surprised it's never been done before. Does the city really not know what services it is legally obligated to provide?

  • HamutalDotan

    The City does know, and certainly people in individual departments do as part of their day-to-day responsibilities. Which is to say: the report is compiling in a comprehensive and public way information that the city has had internally and less formally since particular obligations were imposed. Another way of putting it: the report sets the scene for cost-cutting exercises, which will be public, by publicly indexing what's potentially on the table.

    Also, it is worth point out that while City staff know these things, it's not clear how much the new administration would have been familiar with them. (Not a slam against Ford, necessarily – it's the kind of thing any new administration, where I mean the political side rather than the bureaucratic side – needs to learn when they take office.)

  • http://twitter.com/DeliriousXVII Matt L

    Riverdale Farm is not that different from a public library. It may be more specific in its topic of education, but it is educational nonetheless.

    Plus, many of the families in the area perhaps are too busy or cannot afford to bring their children to other animal exhibits in the city.

    Riverdale Farm is low-cost and highly accessible to these families. If given the choice between sittng in a library, reading about the sound a goat makes, I'd rather go to the farm and experience it first hand. Even in the information-age watching a youtube video just doesn't compare the the sights and sounds of a place like Riverdale Farm.

  • John Duncan

    Something I'm particularly worried about is that people are reading this report as saying that, e.g. cutting of grass in parks isn't core, therefore we can save $X million by contracting it out.

    Well, no. The report's saying we can save $X million by not doing it at all. There is no guarantee at all that a private contractor is going to do it dramatically more cheaply.

    But it's hardly surprising, as this whole exercise has been designed not to look at what we should be doing, but what could possibly be chopped.

  • andrew97

    Okay, let's rephrase the question! Make a list of all the discretionary spending in the city budget. How high up the list would you put Riverdale Farm? i.e., how many things would you cut to save it?

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    Let's rephrase the question! Riverdale Farm or something else of lower priority is threatened by the state of the City's budget. Would you rather cut the marginal thing, increase taxes, or both?

    (constraining yourself to discussing cuts only is tacit acceptance that cuts are the only option)

  • andrew97

    Or, you know, user fees.

  • http://piorkowski.ca qviri

    Speaking of user fees, there's a couple of city-provided services and infrastructure I'd like to apply them to. Roads, based on vehicle weight, for a start.

  • andrew97

    Sounds good to me!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5QE6EGHDRGWO2RVB6VSCJGPEKM Kevin

    I too would be interested in user fees if they were applied equally. That way people from outside Toronto's political boundaries (nothing against them personally) who use Toronto infastructure can help pay for it as well.
    We may find out that unsubsidized petting zoos cost less than unsubsidized roads.

  • istoronto

    As KPMG releases these reports, I'm beginning to think this whole process is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to keep the public and media preoccupied with unfounded, never will happen, concerns, while, the Ford brothers try to strong arm convince councillors into axing 1,000's of city employee and future tax increases.

     I haven't followed this issue enough, but I'd loved to know who the people at KPMG are. Do we know who they are?