A shutdown of the Sheppard subway, a 25-cent fare increase for transit riders and reduced hours for libraries and community centres lead a list of cuts threatened yesterday for Toronto residents.
The potential cuts, which could kick in within weeks, are fallout from the defeat, for now, of Mayor David Miller's proposal for $350-million in new taxes.
The mayor denied the threat of reduced services amounts to a scare tactic. "We don't have the room to manoeuvre any more," he said.
Yesterday's political theatre seems designed to send a message to balky city councillors about what's at stake on Oct. 22, when Mr. Miller's two new taxes come back for a definitive vote, and to all three provincial parties who will be mining voter support in Toronto in the Oct. 10 election.
Critics on council denounced Mr. Miller's explanation.
"The responsible approach is not to make daily announcements of service-level Armageddon," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), who had led the charge to put off a decision on the tax proposals until fall. "Rather there needs to be a responsible, organized and intelligent approach to examining the cutbacks that are a priority in this difficult time."
Others, including Councillors Case Ootes (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth) and Brian Ashton (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest), who both voted against Mr. Miller, called for an emergency council meeting to discuss the pending cuts.
The Toronto Transit Commission will hold an emergency meeting today to consider a request from the city to slash $30-million from its $1.1-billion budget this year.
On the table are a possible fare increase, the closing of the Sheppard subway next January, as well as the cancellation of 21 bus routes and a promised new service to ease commuter overcrowding.
"This is extremely traumatic," said TTC chairman Adam Giambrone, who compared the coming slash in spending with deep cuts at the transit agency in the 1990s. "… As chair of the TTC, this is one of the darkest days we've seen in transit in over a decade."
Mr. Giambrone, a close ally of the mayor, acknowledged that the scale of the potential cuts surprised him as well as senior TTC officials: "The number … came as a shock, quite frankly," he said.
Meanwhile, other agencies and departments are under the gun to come up with their own significant savings, such as a ban on non-essential travel and a deeper hiring freeze (except for staff required under provincial legislation).
City manager Shirley Hoy is to meet today with heads of divisions to lay out the rules for making across-the-board cuts worth about $100-million by year end. City officials have authority to order a range of belt-tightening measures, she said, but only council can eliminate entire programs.
The $100-million in savings would be used to whittle down a budget shortfall of $575-million in 2008. Mr. Miller had assumed his new revenue measures, a new tax of up to 2 per cent on the purchase of a home and a $60 fee to register ownership of a motor vehicle, would generate about $350-million annually for the city.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Police Services Board has ordered a meeting next week to respond to the city's request to pare at least $10-million from its $785-million budget for 2007. City officials want all emergency services, police, fire and ambulance, to come up with "significant savings" worth a total of $30-million this year, board chairman Alok Mukherjee said.
"I know that we will have to make a very serious effort," he said. But he emphasized that the board is "absolutely committed" to maintaining the council-approved complement of 5,510 officers on the street.
Salaries and benefits account for 93 per cent of costs, leaving a fraction of the overall police budget from which to find immediate savings.
The sudden turn for the TTC, with an unprecedented increase in users and the promise of capital investment in light-rail services over the next decade, should not surprise anyone after council's vote this week, the mayor said.
"I was very clear," he told reporters, when asked to explain the TTC news. "I've been very clear for months.
"The city's financial position is unsustainable," he said. "Did we say this particular thing to the people of Toronto? No you're quite right, I didn't. But in very general terms, I laid out exactly the consequences."
One of the biggest pressures on city finances is the TTC, which accounts for 15 per cent of the city's $7.8-billion operating budget. Shutting the Sheppard subway, used by 40,000 people a day, would save $10-million in 2008, Mr. Giambrone said.
Shutting down the line would take until January, because its 140 unionized employees must be redeployed to replace other staff as they retire, Mr. Giambone said, adding that staff reductions would likely occur through attrition.
Bus service would replace the subway.
In effect, the TTC will be expected to manage in 2007 with the same level of subsidy, $272-million, that it received from the city this year, despite spiralling costs from more riders, rising fuel costs and automatic wage increases for unionized staff.