Pool closings, transit cuts, reduced library and arena hours – Toronto residents have a chance to have their three-minute say on the city’s money-saving plans over the next two days at city hall.
A total of 348 residents have signed up to speak over the course of the two-day budget meeting, many from organizations such as daycare centres, school nutrition programs, arts groups and non-profits that will be directly affected by the proposed reductions to funding.
The proposed budget – released last week – aims to reduce the city's total spending for the first time since amalgamation and would require major layoffs of up to 1,190 city workers and a 10-per-cent reduction in most departments. It also recommends a 2.5-per-cent increase in residential taxes.
“It would be most helpful if people have alternatives for the budget committee to look at, most helpful,” budget chair Councillor Mike Del Grande said as he kicked off the discussions. “That’s what I as the chair am looking for specifically.”
The meeting began with speakers representing business interests – the Toronto Board of Trade and the local Real Estate Board.
“You have to get the deficit to zero,” said Carol Wilding, head of the board of trade. “What you need to debate is, is this the right path forward?”
Richard Silver, president of the Toronto Real Estate Board, urged the councillors to scrap the land transfer tax – a campaign pledge made by the mayor that he has yet to act upon. He characterized the tax as unfair burden on a single group. “Where do we go next? Left-handed males have to pay a special tax?”
He noted that Toronto has the lowest residential tax rate in the GTA.
The committee also heard from a number of residents of Birchmount Residence, one of three shelters slated to be closed.
“They took me in and treated me with respect,” said Allen McKinnon, one of 53 elderly residents at the home, a city-run shelter for single men.
John Campey from Social Planning Toronto came with a map to demonstrate how low-come neighbourhoods would be hardest hits by the cuts.
“To say the pain is being shared evenly...is not the case,” he said, adding later, “Poor kids will suffer.”
The public portion of the budget talks will continue Wednesday and Thursday, but unlike meetings this summer, there will be no all-nighters. Mr. Del Grande has been clear the meetings will end at 9:30 p.m. Those that do not get a chance to address the meeting are being encouraged to submit written submissions.