Budget Cuts Under Debate Today




Budget Cuts Under Debate Today

After a summer of meetings, reports, debates, and consultations, city council is finally going to vote on the first round of proposed budget cuts this week.

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Today, after a summer of consultant reports, public discussion, and a great deal of speculation in the press, as well as two marathon Executive Committee meetings, Toronto city council will finally make at least a few decisions: they’ll be considering a roster of proposed service/budget cuts to make as they work towards balancing the 2012 budget.

The slate of cuts that was originally proposed by Toronto city manager Joseph Pennachetti was considerably more extensive than the list under consideration today: at last week’s all-night Executive Committee meeting, councillors decided to reject some, and to punt others to meetings later this fall. However, any of those Executive Committee decisions—about what to cut, punt, or reject—could be overturned at today’s meeting of the full city council.

Here is a quick cheat sheet to the cuts they’ll be debating today:

Cuts Proposed for Today

  • Close (unspecified) City-run museums with the least attendance, and revenues compared to costs.
  • Seek out a third (i.e. private) party to operate the Park, Forestry and Recreation’s zoos and farms (e.g. the High Park Zoo), with the exception of the Riverdale Farm. Also, transfer of the operation of Black Creek urban farm from the City of Toronto to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
  • Reduce community and neighbourhood development activities by suspending (1) staff supports to Council Advisory Bodies; (2) work on the development of community service hubs; and (3) work on the development of social development plans for communities undergoing revitalization.
  • Stop providing building permit and zoning information over the phone and in written correspondence; migrate to the web and 311 to access this information.
  • Transfer operations of the Christmas Bureau, which helps distributes Christmas gifts to children in need, to a third (private or non-profit) partner.
  • Eliminate the requirement for paid duty police officers at construction sites where possible.
  • Eliminate the Public Realm’s Neighbourhood Improvement Program which allocates funding to each of the City’s 44 wards.
  • Seek private buyers for the three City-owned theatres: Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts (the Sony Centre), and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
  • Seek a private buyer for the Metro Toronto Zoo.

Cuts the City Would Like Staff to Investigate Further

  • Talks with the province on potential partnership opportunities related to the governance and operations of the Exhibition Place and Ontario Place.
  • Divest the City of Heritage Toronto by finding sponsors, donors, et cetera to fund it.
  • Review the forestry service plan, and report to the Parks and Environment Committee with recommended changes to extend the timeframe to achieve the City’s tree canopy goals.
  • Review options to cover the City’s administrative costs for the Percent for Public Art Program. (This program recommends “a minimum of one percent of the gross construction cost of each significant development be contributed to public art”—essentially, developers provide funds for public art when undertaking major construction.)

Cuts That Have Been Punted to Later Meetings

  • Service levels for snow ploughing, windrow clearing, and street sweeping.
  • Transfer some City-run child care centres to third-party ownership.
  • Transfer some City-run long term care facilities to third-party ownership.
  • Merge Fire Services and EMS.
  • Examine the existing business and governance models in community centres and arenas.
  • Reduce affordable housing development and the Housing Loan Program.
  • Eliminate animal pick-up and delivery of owner-surrendered animals to shelters.
  • Eliminate the four free garbage tag program.
  • Eliminate Community Environment Days.
  • Toronto Atmospheric Fund and Toronto Environment Office: Consolidate and reduce environmental services, and refocus their mandates on services that, in the opinion of the City Manager, are required to meet regulatory environmental reporting requirements, support the City’s interests, or have the greatest return on investment.
  • Eliminate the Hardship Fund, which helps offset medical costs for Toronto residents in dire financial need. Also consider eliminating a fund which provides dental health program that covers the cost of dental treatments for children of parents who are receiving Ontario Works.
  • Reduce the Heritage Grants and Heritage Tax Rebate Program.
  • Consider reducing the size of the police force.
  • Consider opportunities to reduce services (hours and days of operation) in the Toronto Public Library system.
  • Sell or lease TTC and Toronto Parking Authority street parking lots and parking garages.
  • Outsource 311 and also outsource IT functions.

Cuts that Were Rejected by the Executive Committee

  • Riverdale Farm: the one farm that’s been exempt from cuts for consideration today, due to a massive show of community support. The Riverdale Farm Coalition has been given until the spring of 2012 to come up with an alternate funding plan, to replace money from the City.
  • Reducing grants provided through the Community Partnership and Investment Program, which go to everything from arts groups to school nutrition programs.
  • Libraries: “rationalizing the footprint of libraries” to reduce service levels, closing some branches.
  • Wheel Trans service levels, and Blue Night TTC service.

The full City report on budget proposals is online [PDF].