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Toronto Library Wants Tiny Budget Increase, in Defiance of Budget Chief

Library board passes budget request with a 0.4 per cent increase over 2012.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaeko/3561096154/"}kaeko{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Toronto’s budget chief, Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), has been fairly clear in the directions he’s provided to all City agencies, boards, commissions, and departments: in 2013, plan on a zero per cent budget increase.

As we saw last year, not all departments are content to accept direction, and sometimes council will make exceptions: though everyone had been asked to cut their budget by 10 per cent last year, for instance, the police budget request actually went up, and was passed by City Hall.

And as we expect to learn more about this year, a zero per cent budget increase is actually a budget cut—if you want to provide the same services, that is. Inflation and negotiated labour agreements mean that it will cost more in 2013 to provide the same services you provided in 2012, all other things being equal. A flatlined budget, in other words, means you need to find ways to do things more efficiently, or cut service, or both.

What is the library’s plan for 2013, and how is it approaching next year?

The library board passed a draft budget earlier this week that calls for a 0.4 per cent budget increase, which equals $680,000. The library is actually facing budget pressure due to inflation that amounts to a 1.7 per cent increase, and is offsetting that, according to information it provided today, “through additional revenues, efficiencies and other savings” that make up 1.4 per cent. The 0.4 per cent increase it is asking for consists primarily (0.3 per cent) of that remaining inflationary pressure. The last 0.1 per cent (or $250,000) is to pay for an increase in opening hours at eight branches, including the Toronto Reference Library.

This is a tiny amount of money in the scheme of things; the City’s overall operating budget is $9.4 billion. But as Rob Ford likes to point out, in the quest to do better at managing the public purse, even small sums are worth discussing. Certainly he has had no qualms about going hard after small amounts that support his gravy-laced narrative, if not the quest to alter fundamentally the economics of the municipal government.

Last year’s budget debate was a fractious battle of wills as councillors decided to overturn many of Ford’s proposed cuts. It is just 0.4 per cent, but whether Ford and Del Grande are willing to go to the mat over this library request may be a sign of how this year’s negotiations will shape up.

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