Liveblog: City Council's Final Debate on the 2012 Budget
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.

Torontoist

37 Comments

news

Liveblog: City Council’s Final Debate on the 2012 Budget

After months of discussion, our municipal budget will be—in some way or another—finalized this week.

BUDGET PASSES 39-5. MOST OF FORD’S PROPOSED CUTS OVERTURNED.
CUTS STILL ON THE TABLE

  • Funding to CPIP (Community Partnership and Investment Program), which issues grants to hundreds of agencies across the city. Key here are grants to HIV prevention programs, which right now are slated for a 10% cuts.
  • Approximately $4 million less going to the Toronto Public Library. The chief librarian told the budget committee that the library system would not be able to absorb this cut without affecting programs, collections, or operating hours.
  • Cut to the TTC budget, which would cause a reduction in service on approximately three dozen bus routes.
  • Closure of three homeless shelters once the residents are relocated.
  • Closure of three daycare facilities.
  • Closure of five school pools, five wading pools, and two outdoor pools; and closing arenas during the day on weekdays.
  • Closure of two City-run zoos, at High Park and on Centre Island.
  • Laying off approximately 1,200 City workers.

REVISIONS PROPOSED DURING TODAY’S MEETING

  • Omnibus motion to: restore the school based child care rent subsidy; restore child care centre programming; restore Priority Centre Youth programs; restore ice rink funding; restore pool funding; restore CPIP community grants; restore funding to shelters; reverse the proposed user fees for children, youth and older adults in priority centres; re-add $5 million to the TTC budget to prevent service reductions; and restore mechanical leaf collection services. Total effect: reversing many major proposed budget cuts.
    Moved by: Josh Colle
    Estimated cost: $15 million
    Offset by: Projected surplus from 2011 budget (total available pool: $154 million)

  • Push the above motion by councillor Colle to the Mayor’s Office “for consideration”—ensuring it won’t have any impact on this budget.
    Moved by: Giorgio Mammoliti
    Estimated financial impact: N/A

  • A comparatively small motion to increase funding to the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre.
    Moved by: Michelle Berardinetti
    Cost: $50,000 net
    Offset by: Growth in property tax base (total available pool: $8.8 million)

  • Restore funding to the three shelters slated for closure, also covered by Colle’s motion below.
    Moved by: Gary Crawford
    Cost: $2 million
    Offset by: “Unspecified reductions” in the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration budget

  • Remove the recommendation to increase user fees at indoor pools for children and seniors, and to introduce user fees for everyone at outdoor pools.
    Moved by: Gloria Lindsay-Luby
    Financial impact: Decreased revenue but no cost

  • Restore funding for three staff positions currently slated for elimination from the Toronto Environment Office.
    Moved by: Mary-Margaret McMahon
    Cost: $323,000
    Offset by: TEO’s reserve fund; no impact on operating budget

  • Keep the High Park Zoo open.
    Moved by: Sarah Doucette
    Financial impact: None on operating budget; money to come from increased revenue.

  • Reverse the final cut to the Toronto Public Library (meaning they’d still see significant cuts, but not the ones that are most likely to lead to cuts in operating hours).
    Moved by: Raymond Cho
    Cost: $3.9 million
    Offset by: Drawing from reserve funds.

  • Restore some funding to the Live Green Toronto Community Animator’s program (enough to leave them no more than 50% of the funding they had last year). The goal is to give the program time to find external partners to take over service delivery in future years.
    Moved by: Joe Mihevc
    Cost: Not to exceed $325,000
    Offset by: Drawing from reserve funds.

  • Delay decisions on contracting out custodial staff positions until the final 2011 surplus figures are available.
    Moved by: Joe Mihevc
    Cost: Unclear

  • Take the property tax savings realized by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and allow them to include it in their budget, rather than counting it as part of the surplus.
    Moved by: Adam Vaughan
    Financial implication: A reduction of approximately $6 million in the surplus; no increase in costs.

  • Direct City staff to report back in June on the effect of hiring freezes on fire and EMS response times
    Moved by: Mike Layton
    Financial implication: N/A

  • Fill 68 firefighter positions currently slated to be left vacant.
    Moved by: Ana Bailão
    Cost: $2.3 million
    Offset by: Drawing from the Extreme Weather Reserve Fund


ALREADY APPROVED

  • Property Tax Increase: 2.5%

7:27 PM: Motion to give Toronto Community Housing the $ they saved in property taxes rather than shunting it to overall surplus PASSES 33-11. (There’s a decent chance many people didn’t know what they were voting for; the language on this one was complex.)

7:26 PM: Motion to defer contracting out of custodial services until we have final report on 2011 surplus FAILS 20-24.

7:26 PM: To summarize: majority of headline-grabbing, concern inducing cuts proposed by mayor have been reversed by council. Huge, huge loss for Ford. Major cut still happening, so far: the TTC, which will still be scaling back service levels on 3 dozen bus routes.

7:25 PM: Motion on saving the library from an additional $3.9 million in cuts PASSES 22-21

7:24 PM: $15 million worth of service cuts have just been pulled from the budget. Shelters, pools, community grant funding, some TTC money safe. Motion to REVERSE proposal to increase fees on indoor pools and introduce fees on outdoor pools: PASSES 23-21. Motions to restore a total of seven staff positions to the Toronto Environment Office PASS 23-21

7:01 PM: Motion to DELAY consideration of Josh Colle’s motion (which would rescue many things from cuts): FAILS. Motion on Josh Colle’s proposal to rescue many things from cuts: PASSES 23-21

6:45 PM: Update, now only one motion on delaying Colle’s proposal. Doucette’s motion on the High Park Zoo and Bailao’s motion on fire staff levels have been ruled out of order, and will not be considered.

6:43 PM: Voting to begin shortly. We will start with motions proposing changes to the budget, then with the budget package as a whole. The first two motions will be on *delaying* any consideration of Josh Colle’s motion to rescue many things from budget cuts, effectively killing that proposal. The third motion will be on Josh Colle’s proposal. Many other motions will follow, though which of them will depend on whether Colle’s motion passes, since some other motions are redundant.

6:13 PM: Doug Ford: “Folks, we have! no! surplus!” He’s considering the operating and capitol budgets together, arguing that we don’t have any leeway to spend the $154 million since we have many major infrastructure investments to pay for. Says councillors trying to reverse cuts are fighting for “special interests” and “pet projects.”

5:44 PM: Councillor Josh Matlow tells media that he believes Josh Colle’s cut reversals will pass, barely, by a vote of 23–22. Mike Layton is less sure, though he thinks it’s certainly possible. Seems likely this will be decided by one or two votes either way.

5:34 PM: “You people don’t want to listen to reality!” Doug Holyday, vehemently, to a father, his 11 year old daughter, and her 11 year old friend, up in the media gallery. They were trying to talk to him about pool closures.

5:15 PM: City council math: by our count Josh Colle’s motion to reverse a large set of proposed budget cuts has 21 solid votes and 3 maybes. It needs 23 votes total to pass. Those three maybe votes: James Pasternak, Jaye Robinson, and Michelle Berardinetti. (Gary Crawford might, just barely, count as a maybe, though his independent motion on saving shelters quite likely means he’s decided not to support Colle.)

4:33 PM: Maria Augimeri, fired up about remarks from a member of the Executive Committee, that user fee increases aren’t a big deal—just a loonie or a toonie. “If you have to ask you don’t know the face of Downsview!” Rejects notion, repeated by Mammoliti and others, that the only people object to this budget are from downtown. Many in council chamber, which has filled with several dozen new observers in the past few minutes, applaud.

3:43 PM: One theme that is emerging quite clearly as various motions are introduced: Ford and his allies are trying very hard to make streetcars funding the lynchpin of this debate. We can’t afford to reverse any of these other proposed cuts, they keep saying, because council (under Miller is implied though not always said aloud) pushed through a $700 million streetcar purchase that we don’t know how to pay for. By focusing on the streetcars—which Ford didn’t want to buy in the first place—they are trying to paint left-leaning councillors, who supported the streetcar purchase, into a corner. “You wanted those streetcars? This is how we have to pay for them.” Most large infrastructure purchases are paid for through debt, but nobody on council’s right is prepared to consider that among the menu of financing options.

2:18 PM: Another, from Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), to save the three shelters currently slated for closure. He’s proposing that it be paid for by redirecting part of the budget from Shelter Support and Housing Administration, being “confident” they can find the necessary $1.9 million without significantly impacting service in other ways. Crawford’s motion is, in effect, covered by Josh Colle’s much broader motion from this morning—either Crawford’s additional motion is insurance for the shelters, or a way out for him if he wants to save shelters but not support Colle’s broader set of proposals. It may not matter though: under questioning from his colleagues, it’s becoming clear that the fuzzy nature of his motion is giving councillors on all sides of the spectrum pause.

2:16 PM: Motion! Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest): “that city council approve an increase of $200,00 gross and $50,000 net for the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre to support the delivery of clinical sexual health services to immigrant women in the target priority population.”

2:02 PM: Summary thought! A short bit of analysis on what happened this morning.

12:26 PM: As speaker Frances Nunziata calls a lunch break, Stop the Cuts protesters unfurls a large banner in council chamber. It is quickly collected by security staff.

Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.

12:09 PM: Doug Holyday and Frances Nunziata are visibly distressed at Colle’s motion; which is still under discussion as various councillors ask him questions about it. Colle is firing back, fiercely—something we haven’t realy seen from him since he was elected to office. Some have been wondering whether he would make a stand like this soon, because council had recently voted to approved more detailed plans to develop Lawrence Heights—by far the biggest project planned for his ward—and he would no longer need to play nice with the mayor to make sure that project was secure. Whatever it is, something in him has changed, and with it something in the power dynamics on council, most likely. After introducing his motion, he spoke to press briefly before returning to the council floor:

11:51 AM: CUPE has just released a poll about City services, and Torontonians’ views thereof. Details:

Satisfaction with programs and services provided by the City—

Very satisfied: 19%

Somewhat satisfied: 53%

Somewhat or very dissatisfied 21%

Don’t know: 6%

View on City services and taxes in Toronto today—

Maintain services even with increased fees/taxes: 64%

Will accept significant service cuts to hold line on taxes: 26%

Neither: 7%

Don’t know: 4%

Poll taken: January 10–13, 2012
Sample size: 600, conducted by telephone
Margin of Error: +/- 4%, 19 times out of 20
Conducted by: Environics Research

11:51 AM: One notable omission from Colle’s proposed changes: libraries aren’t mentioned. Look for a separate motion on those later today.

11:33 AM: In a flat-out astonishing move, staunchly centrist and ardently under-the-radar councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) has just moved a raft of motions that would reverse a substantial portion of Ford’s proposted budget cuts. Among them, to: restore school based childcare rent subsitity; restore child care centre programming; restore Prioirity Centre youth programs; reverse cuts to community grants; keep shelters open; restore $5 million to the TTC to prevent service changes; and many others. He is simultaenously calling for $15 million to be drawn from the surplus to pay for these services. This would be expected from the left; that it’s coming from someone who has often backed Ford is remarkable, and very bad news for the mayor.

11:06 AM: Birthdays! Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon stops for a minute to announce that two of her colleagues have birthdays: Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) and Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest). Josh Matlow emerges with a giant cookie that has a candle burning in the centre. (Milczyn blows it out and thanks “the two Joshes”—centrist councillors Matlow and Josh Colle—and tells them that voting for the budget would be a lovely birthday present.)

11:03 AM: First line of questioning, from councillor Raymond Cho (Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River), regarding increases in user fees, which he says are high and will have a severe impact on families with lower incomes. City staff reply that user fees are voluntary (because you can choose not to participate in the programs that have them) while taxes affect everyone.

10:45 AM: As the presentation continues, a press release from CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson, asking councillor to protect services with the leeway provided by the union’s offer to accept a wage freeze, which they maintain would save $8.5 million annually.

10:31 AM: A note about Ford’s speech, earlier. His claim that we must use the surplus to help pay for the streetcars implictly assumes that we cannot pay for them with debt, which is often how the City, and governments everywhere, finance major capital purchases.

10:31 AM: Now on to the budget itself, beginning with an overview presentation by City staff.

10:29 AM: The upshot of that vote: councillors trying to stave off cuts will propose doing so by drawing from the projected $154 million surplus.

10:24 AM: Now we move on to the actual agenda items. We’re starting with the “mayor’s key item”—one matter from the agenda that the mayor wants to highlight. (It’s a way of declaring something to be of paramount importance to the administration.) He has chosen not the budget itself, but the property tax rate. It passes quickly and easily, by a vote of 38–5, without debate. (Voting against: Glenn De Baeremaeker, Mike Layton, Gord Perks, Adam Vaughan, and Kristyn Wong-Tam.) In short: council has just approved the proposed 2.5% property tax increase.

10:20 AM: Last and largest among those petitions: 55,000 signatures on a petition against library cuts, presented by Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York).

10:06 AM: Councillors have declared any conflicts of interest they might have (most often, if a spouse or close family member is an employee in a City department or agency), and are now presenting petitions from their constituents regarding various budget issues. Council chamber is, predictably, packed, with the upper gallery full of kids in swimming gear upset at proposed pool closures.

9:52 AM: Rob Ford opens proceedings with his introductory speech: “I ask that you consider two things. First is the state of our economy and the day-to-day reality of our residents. Second is the state of our finances in the City of Toronto. Turn on the news, listen to the radio—you will see that our world is going through tough, tough economic times… Average families feel the pinch every day. Average people are not getting raises. It is hard to find a job. I believe most people can afford a tax increase of just 2.5%, but just barely 2.5%. I know they cannot afford a penny more.” Referring back to the 2010 election, he says “less than 12% voted to maintain the status quo,” referring to Joe Pantalone, explaining why he believes he has a mandate to introduce a budget that changes course. Ford goes on to say that we only have a surplus if we ignore the capital budget—that if we consider the price of buying streetcars, we don’t have any surplus at all, since we haven’t paid for them yet. “Everyone knows that I am not a fan of streetcars,” he goes on (mild laughter in the audience), “but I believe in paying my bills.”

9:30 AM: Six months of budget talks, hundreds of deputations, dozens of reports, and countless press releases come down to this: over the next three days, the mayor and councillors will negotiate, debate, and grandstand their way to a final version of the City’s 2012 budget. The meeting will be long, and it will be fractious, and right now nobody really knows how it’s going to turn out.

Top: protesters outside City Hall at 9:15 a.m.; bottom: red piggy banks greeting councillors as they arrive in council chamber (Doug Holyday seems to like the idea).

What we do know: marching in front of the doorway of City Hall this morning were a few dozen protesters, chanting “Two pools saved! Five more to go!” Inside council chamber, on top of the monitors at each councillor’s desk: red piggy banks. In those two small moments, a summary of the larger themes that have defined this budget process. On the one hand have been a long, vocal, and active string of opponents speaking out against budget cuts—groups and organizations and individual citizens lining up to protest against a raft of cuts aimed at everything from school pools to HIV program grants. On the other has been a persistent hammering away, by the mayor and his allies, at the idea that Toronto is hovering on the brink of financial crisis, and that we can no longer afford “nice-to-haves” in the way that the previous administration had us believe.

We’ll be live-blogging for the duration of the meeting, and updating on proposed changes to the budget as they are made. Tweet any questions to us (@torontoist), or leave them here in the comments, and we’ll try to reply as things unfold.

Comments