After a day and a half of debate at City Hall, and following a summer of consultant reports, marathon committee meetings, and public discussion, council finally voted on a much scaled-down slate of proposed budget cuts.
All summer, various committees of council have been meeting to discuss a set of reports issued by KPMG, who were commission to identify programs the City could cut, in order to help save money.
They didn’t find much.
After their review, and upon comparison with other similar cities, it turns out that approximately 90% of City-run services are either mandatory (they are legally required to provide them) or “traditional” for municipal governments to provide.
Out of that process: a slate of proposed cuts that included many items dear to Toronto residents—including phasing out child care spaces and selling long-term care facilities, privatizing the Riverdale Farm and scaling back environmental offices. Much public hue and outcry followed, and after last week’s marathon Executive Committee meeting, councillors today were faced with a much more modest set of proposals, with potential savings totalling $29 million. (The rest of the proposals were punted to budget meetings that will be held later this fall.) They debated them all day yesterday and all morning today, and then considered approximately 40 amendments. The results:
CUTS THAT WERE PASSED TODAY
- By a vote of: 34-11: Eliminating four free garbage tags.
- By a vote of 39-5: Finding third-party operators for the Parks Department zoos and farms (except Riverdale Farm). By a vote of 27-18, council agreed preference would be given to third party operators who will emphasize education and conservation; by a vote of 20-25 they rejected a proposed 10% limit on the area of zoos and farms that could be given over to commercial activities.
- By a vote of 34-11: Reducing community and neighbourhood development activities by cutting staff supports to advisory bodies, stopping work on the development of community service hubs, and stopping work on the development of social development plans for communities undergoing revitalization. However, by a vote of 25-20, council approved a motion to exempt the Youth Cabinet and Seniors Forum from those cuts.
- By a vote of 24-21: Three City-run theatres. The City will try to sell: the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts (the Sony Centre), and the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
- By a vote of 20-24: Libraries will not be immune to potential cuts in services and hours, though the extent of those cuts is not yet known. No branches will be closed, however.
- By a vote of 24-21: Trees. Council will be extending the timeframe for achieving the City’s tree canopy goals (though we don’t yet know by how long. By another 24-21 vote, councillors decided to continue investigating cuts to horticultural programs.
- By a vote of 29-16: The Christmas Bureau, which gives gifts to needy children.
- By a vote of 20-25: Council rejected a motion to exclude child care from budget cuts. Potential cuts will be part of the 2012 budget process.
- By a vote of 20-25: Council rejected a motion to exempt long-term care facilities from budget cuts. Potential cuts will be part of the 2012 budget process.
- By a vote of 22-23: The Hardship Fund, which offsets medical costs for the needy.
- By a vote of 44-1: The one nobody argued about! Council will eliminate paid duty police officers at construction sites.
- By a vote of 29-16: The Metro Zoo, which the City will try to sell.
- By a vote of 23-22: Cuts to the Public Realm Neighbourhood Improvement Program.
- By a vote of 17-28: A Requirement that City-run zoos and farms remain free or move to a pay-what-you-can model if operated by third parties.
- By a vote of 43-2: A proposal to scale back City Planning review processes.
- By a vote of 24-21: Cutting Community Environment Days.
- By a vote of 40-5: Shutting down several City-run museums. (We don’t know which ones were on the chopping block, as the City claims it cannot release that information since it pertains to specific individuals’ employment status.) This cut isn’t definitively dead, but it will be reconsidered.
- By a vote of 42-3: Pursuing opportunities to divest the City of Heritage Toronto, and have it instead run by sponsors or the like. As part of the same motion, council also voted to preserve Fort York until after Bicentennial celebrations next year. The future of Fort York may be revisited at that time.
- By a vote of 25-20: Selling the Toronto Parking Authority.
- By a vote of 20-25: Having TTC crowding standards changes (increasing the number of people they can pack into a vehicle before it counts as full, basically) affect priority neighbourhoods last.
- By a unanimous vote: Shutting Riverdale Farm. Council will support efforts by the Riverdale Farm Coalition to find a new operating model for the farm, by giving them until the spring of 2012 to come up with a proposal.
- By a vote of 43-2: A multi-part package that included potential cuts to snow plowing, grass cutting, community grants, blue night TTC service, and Wheel Trans.
BUDGET PROCESS VOTES
- By a vote of 39-6: Council passed a motion to have the City Manager “report the findings of the Service Efficiency Reviews to Council as part of the Budget Process.”
- By a vote of 33-12: Council rejected a recommendation which would have given the City Manager the power to make certain significant budget decisions, rather than voting on them at council.
- By a vote of 37-8: Council passed a request that the City Manager provide a “full list of options on the revenue side” to help balance the books. (No, we don’t know why this isn’t part of the process as a matter of course.)
- By a vote of 25-20: Council passed a motion to have City Manager report on the implications of a 5% across-the-board budget cut in all departments. (Right now, the City is looking at a 10% cut.)
- By a vote of 21-24: Council rejected a motion to have the City Manager “provide a review of overall financial picture for 2012″ at the October council meeting. (Yeah, can’t explain that one either.)
- By a vote of 22-23: Council rejected a motion to have City Manager provide Council a summary of contracts with third party consultants conducting the City’s efficiency reviews and organizational analyses, including the terms, scope of work, projected completion dates and costs of those contracts.
- By a unanimous vote: Council endorsed a motion to “call on the provincial and federal government” to help develop a child care funding strategy.
- By a vote of 36-9: Council passed a motion to look at maximizing use of assets by, for instance, coordinating between libraries and community centres.
- By a vote of 43-2: Council will look at adding a “voluntary contributions option” to property tax bills.
- By a unanimous vote: formulate a joint strategy to lobby the provincial government to reinstate TTC operating subsidies.
OTHER VOTES (SOME SURPRISING, SEVERAL WACKY)
- By a vote of 44-1: Pointless motion by Cesar Palacio urging provincial debate organizers to ask Horwath/Hudak/McGuinty about TTC funding. (That’s for the televised debate happening tonight.)
- By a vote of 19-26: Council rejected a proposal to examine the possibility of implementing road tolls on the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway.
- By a vote of 14-31: Council rejected a surprise motion from Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday calling for expansion of the DVP by adding one lane in each direction, with those lanes being tolled.
- By a vote of 16-29: De-amalgamation motion! Specifically, council rejected a motion to ask the Province to allow Toronto to petition for amalgamation if 10% of us decided we want to. (That’s how de-amalgamation can be triggered in other municipalities in Ontario.)
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
We don’t know.
The full package of cuts that council considered today would have saved approximately $29 million. At press time the City had not released an estimate of how much will be saved by the cuts that actually passed.
Both the administration and the opposition are claiming political victories tonight, with Ford telling reporters that this was a victory for fiscal restraint and leading progressive councillors like Adam Vaughan to emphasize that many cuts had been back.
The real fights, ultimately, are still ahead. The formal budget process hasn’t actually begun—that comes in November. And many of the cuts that the Executive Committee punted last week will be before councillors again then.
The records of how individual councillors voted on today’s motions are not yet online. We will update when they are.