November 28 – Budget Launch: Death by a Thousand Cuts

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Nov 29, 2011 12:54 am | Beth Wilson,  Social Planning Toronto

November 28 – Budget Launch: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Today, the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee began its annual budget process with the launch of the 2012 staff recommended operating and capital budgets.  Over the next seven weeks, City Council will debate these draft budgets before making final decisions at its January 17-19 meeting.  With today’s launch, the City has released hundreds of pages of documents detailing these budgets (www.toronto.ca/budget2012/index.htm).  Today’s update outlines key points from the 2012 operating budget.  Over the next week, I will provide further updates on the capital budget and delve into individual program area budgets.

This update also provides key dates in the budget process, including the public hearings that take place on Wednesday, December 7 and (if required) Thursday, December 8.  Register by Tuesday, December 6 at 4 p.m. to have your say on the City’s 2012 budget.  Contact buc@toronto.ca or 416-392-7340 to register to depute at the Budget Committee.  These public hearings will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at City Hall, 100 Queen Street West in Committee Room 1. Register today to save your spot!  For more on making a deputation: http://commitment2community.org/?p=237

So what’s in the operating budget?  As you may know from media reports, there are a whole lot of cuts in this year’s budget – $88 million in department after department – as well as increases in user fees such as TTC fares and recreation fees.  Here are some of the proposals on the table:

  • elimination of the Hardship Fund in June 2012 – sign the petition now! http://togethertoronto.ca/campaigns/hardshipfund/
  • cuts to library hours, purchase of library materials
  • elimination of priority recreation centres (no more free registered programs for children and youth in priority centres)
  • cuts to arenas, increase in recreation facility permit costs, increases in user fees for recreation
  • closure of some wading pools, outdoor pools, elimination of programming at some school board pools and shared use schools
  • closure of three emergency shelters (Birchmount, Downsview Dells and Bellwoods)
  • 9.8% cut to community grants for services delivered by nonprofit community organizations (unclear how these cuts will be applied – across the board vs. targeted cuts)
  • closure of visitor cafeterias in long term care homes
  • cuts to student nutrition programs
  • elimination of over 2,300 City positions including 1 in 5 in the City’s human services divisions (citizen centred services ‘A’)
  • deferral of hiring of police, firefighters and paramedics (questions about how this will affect overtime spending)
  • 10 cent TTC fare increase with cuts to 62 routes as of January 8
  • no more Wheel Trans service for dialysis patients
  • 2.5% property tax increase

That’s just scratching the surface.  In the days to come, I’ll provide further breakdowns on these cuts.

With $88 million in proposed cuts plus  increases to TTC fares and recreation fees, you might think that there isn’t a penny left on the table.  Wrong.  The projected surplus for 2011 is estimated at $139 million, with an updated figure expected on January 9 at the Budget Committee.  The plan is to put this money into capital reserves for future capital projects and the Tax Stabilization Reserve fund (savings for a rainy day) with none of it used to save City services or lessen the burden of user fee increases.

A few other interesting details:

  • We heard a lot about bloated spending at City Hall.  City staff report shows over half of the growth in net expenditures since 1998 is due to increases in the budgets of police, fire and EMS; another 32% comes from TTC.
  • City projects bad times ahead with increased average caseload of 5,000 on Ontario Works, budgets for more OW workers – while cutting important services that low income people rely on and closing shelters.
  • This year’s net operating budget (supported by property taxes) is $3.678 billion, up from $3.579 billion in 2011.  The gross budget (which includes all revenues, including funds from senior levels of government) is $9.355 billion, down from $9.407 billion in 2011.  Of the $98.3 million increase in the property tax budget, $41.8 million comes from increased revenues from property tax assessment growth and $56.5 million from increases in property taxes (2.5% residential and 0.83% non-residential increases).
  • Several new efficiency studies expected in the new year, including one for Shelter, Support and Housing Administration division.

Required reading:  Wellesley Institute’s Sheila Block’s “Countdown to Zero” documents how the City’s financial situation is not the unprecedented disaster it’s been made out to be.  Each year, the City begins its budget process with a multi-million dollar starting pressure just like this year.  How we get to zero depends on what kind of City we want.

See the staff presentations:  2012 staff recommended tax supported operating budget and 2012 staff recommended 2012-2021 tax supported capital budget and plan

Read the details in the analyst notes here

Mark your calendar!

  • November 29: Community budget forum – 5:30-8 p.m. at Albion Public Library, 1515 Albion Road
  • November 30: Community budget forum – 5:30-8 p.m. at Assembly Hall, Kipling and Lakeshore
  • December 1: SPT Member Forum on the 2012 Operating Budget with Councillor Milczyn from the Budget Committee and fabulous community panel.  YWCA Elm Centre, 87 Elm Street from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Register here
  • December 3: Respect Scarborough – community budget forum – lunch at noon, forum 1-4 p.m. at Don Montgomery Community Centre, 2467 Eglinton Avenue East.  Details here
  • December 13: Community budget forum in former City of York – details to follow

Budget process dates:  All meetings at City Hall, 100 Queen Street West.  Open to the public.  All committee meetings are held in Committee Room 1.  City Council meeting held in Council Chamber.  All meetings start at 9:30 a.m.

  • December 2: Budget Committee reviews the following budgets – Toronto Police Service and Police Services Board, Parking Tag Enforcement and Operations, Internal Services (e.g. Facilities Management and Real Estate, Sustainable Energy Plan, Union Station, etc.), Other City Programs (e.g. City Manager’s Office, Mayor’s Office), Accountability Offices (Auditor General’s Office, Office of the Integrity Commissioner, Office of the Lobbyist Registrar, Office of the Ombudsman)
  • December 5: Budget Committee reviews the following budgets – Citizen Centred Services ‘A’ (human service divisions) includes  Affordable Housing Office, Children’s Services, Court Services, Economic Development and Culture, Emergency Medical Services, Long Term Care Homes Services, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Shelter, Support and Housing, Social Development, Finance and Administration, Toronto Employment and Social Services, 311 Toronto, and the following agencies/programs: Community Partnership and Investment Program (grants), Toronto Public  Health, Toronto Public Library, Association of Community Centres, Arena Boards of Management, Yonge-Dundas Square, Heritage Toronto
  • December 6: Budget Committee reviews the following budgets – Citizen Centred Services ‘B’ (hard services) includes City Planning, Waterfront Revitalization Initiative, Fire Services, Policy Planning, Finance and Administration/TEO, Municipal Licensing and Standards, Technical Services, Toronto Building, Transportation Services, and the following agencies: Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto Zoo, Exhibition Place, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Theatres (Sony Centre, St. Lawrence Centre and Toronto Centre for the Arts), and Toronto Atmospheric Fund
  • December 7 and 8: Budget Committee hears public deputations.  See top of the page for registration information.  Register now to have your say!
  • December 9 and 13: Budget Committee wrap up – presentation of user fee report and final budget decisions.
  • January 9: Budget Committee final review – Corporate capital and operating report, core service and service efficiency study update, current value assessment update, 2013 outlook and long term fiscal plan update, and 2011 third quarter variance reports.
  • January 12: Executive Committee review – recommends capital and operating budgets to City Council (no deputations).
  • January 17-19: City Council meets to review and approve the final budgets.

To be continued.

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