A first look at the set of budget cuts Toronto City staff are recommending. High on the list: environment, child care, snow clearing, and affordable housing.
Today, after a summer of consultant reports, public discussion, and a great deal of speculation in the press, Torontonians got a clearer sense of the first round of cuts their councillors will be voting on as they work to balance the 2012 budget. In a report released this morning, Toronto city manager Joseph Pennachetti provided a set of recommendations based on KPMG’s assessment of the City’s books, and an evaluation of which programs Toronto could cut, as determined by what services it is legally required to provide or what is considered “traditional” in comparable municipalities.
Very roughly, the report [PDF] breaks matters into two areas: specific cuts that are being recommended now, and a further set of cuts which are being recommended for further study. Here are some of the cuts under consideration…
Round One: Cuts Recommended Today
- Reduce new affordable housing development and the House Loan Program to limit it to completing the existing Council approved commitments for development which is funded by federal and provincial governments;
- Reduce the number of subsidized child care spaces through attrition;
- Close museums with the least attendance and revenues;
- Reduce the service level standard for snow clearing and grass cutting;
- Try to find a third-party operator for the Parks’ department zoos and farms (such as Riverdale Farm and the High Park Zoo) and close them if nobody expresses interest;
- 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;
- Eliminate the four free garbage tags per household;
- Eliminate Community Environment Days;
- Toronto Environment Office and Toronto Atmospheric Fund: “Consolidate, and reduce environmental services within divisions, and agencies, 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 Christmas Bureau, and seek alternative funding sources…from the voluntary, philanthropic and/or private sectors;
- Eliminate the Hardship Fund, and request the Provincial Government to fund these services and items;
- Eliminate the requirement for paid duty police officers at construction sites where possible;
- Eliminate the current windrow clearing program, and…implement a windrow, and sidewalk snow shovelling program for seniors and people with disabilities, operated by a third party;
- Reduce service levels [for snow removal, and snow ploughing on local streets] if required to meet the minimum standard;
- Reduce the Community Partnership and Investment Program based on consideration of existing legal obligations, and the following criteria: eliminate allocations where City funding represents less than five percent of the program budget or is less than $10,000;
- Sell a number of City-run facilities, including three theatres (Toronto Centre for the Arts, Hummingbird Centre, and the St. Lawrence Centre), as well as the Toronto Zoo.
And what will all these service reductions give us? “With Council approval of these service eliminations and reductions,” the city manager writes, “and the implementation of the efficiencies identified by KPMG, the total savings is estimated to be approximately $200 to $300 million over the period 2012 to 2014. For 2012, the estimated savings from service eliminations, reductions, and KPMG identified efficiencies being actively considered by staff, are projected at approximately $100 million.”
The opening budget pressure—the gap between how much money the City needs and how much it has—is, according to the Ford administration, $774 million. Opposition councillors have estimated that it will be substantially lower (due to the surplus from last year’s budget that will be applied this year, and higher than expected revenues in some areas). In the past year council also eliminated the Vehicle Registration Tax and approved a property tax freeze, increasing pressure on the budget.
Coming Soon: Round Two of Cuts?
Among the list of potential cuts the city manager would like to see discussed further are a large raft of services provided by the municipalities agencies, boards, and commissions (things like the Toronto Police Service, Library Board, and Toronto Transit Commission). Included on this list:
- Reducing heritage grants and the Heritage Tax Rebate Program;
- Reducing business services and reducing staff support services to Business Improvement Areas;
- Reducing or eliminating proactive inspection for illegal signs and investigation of sign complaints;
- Eliminating the dental health program;
- Reducing the size of the police force “through budgetary means”;
- Reducing service hours and/or closing some library branches;
- Rolling back TTC service improvements and crowding standards, and charging a “premium” fare for Blue Night TTC service.
The city manager also thinks council should consider reductions of additional services within its own auspices, including quality assessments of child care facilities, privatizing City-owned child care facilities, privatizing most long-term care facilities, eliminating EMS community medicine activities, integrating EMS and fire services, and re-examining how arenas and community centres are funded and operated. He is additionally recommending that the City explore the possibility of reviewing heritage services by exploring the creation of an “independent not-for-profit corporation funded by sponsorships, donations, and membership fees to assume the responsibilities of Heritage Toronto.” Finally, today’s report encourages further review of “the option to sell or lease TTC and Toronto Parking Authority street lots and garages.”
These further cuts will be considered over the coming months, as part of the preparation for debating the 2012 budget.
The recommendations contained in the city manager’s report will be discussed at a meeting of the Executive Committee being held on Monday, September 19. You can make a written submission to the Executive Committee or to sign up to speak at the meeting.