Budget committee ignores calls to use surplus to offset many planned cuts.
After a long day of deliberations at City Hall, not much has changed with the proposed 2012 operating budget.
The committee saw plenty of hyperbole and vitriol on both sides, as councillors on the left invoked a “radical conservative agenda” and those on the right condemned them for creating a “dialogue of despair.” In the meantime, the battle to prevent cuts to libraries and community programs waged on, with very limited success.
One very silver lining: the budget committee voted to remove the proposed $400,000 cut to student nutrition programs, as well as cuts to 12 community centres in TDSB buildings throughout the city. Holding the line wasn’t enough to alleviate worries about those who need those services though: Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) argued that doing nothing—no decrease, but also not even an inflationary increase—would amount to a cut in service. “There are so many wins with this very small investment,” he said. “Minimally, let’s not go backwards, the right amount is about $570,000 to tread water. If we do have a duty as human beings it is first and foremost to our children, and our grandchildren.”
Saves for school nutrition and those community centres were expected; the surprise was a motion which saved two pools—picked to ensure that closures did not force people to go further than three kilometres to find a pool.
Those were the lone bright spots, however, as the budget committee voted 6-1 to proceed with a 10 per cent cut to the Toronto Public Library budget. The Library Board had proposed cutting their budget by 5.9 per cent—the most they said they could trim without cutting too deeply into services—but that wasn’t enough for the budget committee. Budget chief Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) contended that the library was in competition for funding with many other services, and that some services provided by the library, such as literacy programs, were also taken care of by schools. In his view, forcing the library budget down would, in essence, be a step towards eliminating redundancies and overlap.
Among the list of things still up for cuts: HIV prevention programs, TTC bus routes, some recreation programs, as well as several homeless shelters, daycares, and wading pools—the vast majority of the $88 million in cuts that was initially proposed. Among the list of proposed user fee increases: TTC fares and recreation programs (especially noteworthy are ones in priority neighbourhoods). The executive committee will meet this Thursday, which in theory could reverse some more of those cuts, but any major changes to the budget are more likely to come when the budget has its final hearing at a meeting of the full city council, during a three-day session scheduled for January 17–19.