Rob Ford during his first council meeting as mayor. Photo by Chris Drost/Torontoist.
Two months ago, the City launched a public review of all its services and programs. The goal was to learn more about what Torontonians prized most highly and what they were willing to forgo in the name of cost-reduction and minimizing taxes. This public review (which we found to be deeply flawed) was coupled with an evaluation of the municipal government by outside consultants who examined how successful our municipal services are and looked at the alternatives some other cities have been exploring.
Today, the City began to unveil the outcome of all this consultation, in the form of a list of service areas the government could consider cutting, or cutting back [PDF]. Among those proposals:
- “Reducing the scale” of cycling infrastructure—the only item marked as having a “high” potential savings. This means that the report is considering a greater than 20 per cent reduction in the money spend on cycling infrastructure. In the notes on this item, the report states that the “Bicycle Plan and Program are more extensive than warranted by bicycle volumes.”
- Reducing Toronto’s existing waste-diversion target. Currently, the goal is to keep 70 per cent of trash out of landfills, via recycling, the green-bin program, and other waste-diversion strategies. (In 2010, Toronto hit 56–67 per cent waste diversion across various sectors [PDF].) According to the report, the potential consequences of this move might include: “reduc[ing] the lifespan of the landfill, and requir[ing] the City to pursue other, potentially-costly disposal options sooner. Cutting back on the diversion target may compromise the City’s efforts to obtain a landfill expansion from the Ministry of the Environment.” Environmental impacts are not listed in the report. Because the recycling program is mandated by the province, the likeliest area for waste diversion cuts are in the green-bin program.
- Eliminating community environment days.
- Eliminating the Toxic Taxi service, which collects hazardous household waste that you cannot throw out with your regular garbage—items such as paint cans, propane tanks, batteries, and so on. Currently, the Toxic Taxi picks up larger quanties of these materials from your house free of charge, should you be unable to transport them to a depot yourself. The report describes these as “higher than standard,” meaning that they provide a greater service level than required by law.
- Further contracting out of services such as garbage pick-up. (The City is already moving to privatize residential trash pick-up west of Yonge, as well as litter pick-up in parks.)
- Reducing snow plowing and snow removal on residential streets.
- Eliminating the fluoridation of Toronto’s water supply. This, despite the fact that the report found that “Toronto’s cost of water treatment is relatively low” (though the cost of delivering the water, due to water main breaks, is quite high). The report notes that this decision, if taken, might lead to “impacts on dental health.”
(The full set of recommendations will be released in stages, each corresponding to the city council committee which has responsibility for certain service areas. Today’s recommendations pertain to services and programs that fall under the rubric of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.)
The report is, in one respect, a startling failure. Ford based his election campaign on the notion that we “don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”—specifically, on the idea that our budget was bloated by waste. As the gravy train apparently ran amok through Toronto’s streets, we were all supposedly suffering from the unfair burden of a tax bill inflated by the costs of mismanagement. Today’s report is based on looking at the success and potential opportunities for savings in the various programs and services the City delivers, but does not actually examine the efficiencies of those services.
Let us repeat: this report does not look for efficiencies in service delivery, but only for which programs the City can, if it so chooses, cut (depending on the services it is legally required to provide) and which of those cuts will yield the greatest savings. From page 23 of the companion report, explaining how to read the list of savings opportunities [PDF]:
KPMG did not assess the effectiveness or efficiency of City services. Assessment of how services are delivered is envisioned to be conducted through separate efficiency reviews. KPMG did not conduct financial analyses of programs and services to identify potential savings.
Which is to say, the administration directed its consultants to look for which programs it was allowed to cut, and by how much, without ever asking it to look at how it could maintain service levels by delivering them more efficiently. The underlying message of today’s report: if we want to cut the size of the budget, it will be, in the first place and not as a last resort, by cutting the scope of government.
Ford is staking his mayoralty on these cuts, betting that Torontonians would rather see services go than tax bills go up. The mayor’s critics, on the other hand, argue that this is a manufactured crisis, the result of killing existing revenue streams (such as the vehicle registraton tax) and curtailing others (such as not increasing property taxes even by the rate of inflation) severely enough to create pressure on valued programs and services where there was none—or at least much less of it—than before.
Which vision of the city Torontonians go in for is, of course, the big unanswered question.