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The Globe and Mail

City Hall releases first phase of mass services appraisal

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford answers questions from councillors regarding a plan to remove board members at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation in council chambers at city hall in Toronto, Ont. March 9/2011.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The city has released the first phase of a mass appraisal of services that will stamp City Hall with Mayor Rob Ford's gravy-trimming brand and fundamentally restructure how the municipal government operates.

A portion of the long-awaited core service review is contained within the agenda for next week's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

It offers a peek into a new era of cost-cutting at City Hall where no program -- no matter how dear -- will go untouched by they mayor's fiscal scythe.

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The committee will consider a number of options presented by consultants from KPMG who have been scouring the city's books for five months:

-Reduce Toronto's much-praised 70-per-cent waste-diversion rate, a number that today stands below 50 per cent.

-Scale back snow plowing and removal on residential streets

-Eliminate windrow snow clearing

-Further contracting out of garbage collection services

-Eliminate garbage collection for small businesses

-Stop fluoridating Toronto water

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-Trim the scale of the city's bicycle infrastructure

-Replace the toxic taxi program with drop-off stations for hazardous materials

Allies of Mr. Ford have made it clear that these are preliminary options, not final conclusions, about how the city should cut costs to make up a $774-million budget gap.

Included with the service review are the results of a public consultation that took in 13,000 submissions from Torontonians. In all, the respondents, who registered their opinions online and through a series of meetings throughout the city, were overwhelmingly against contracting out municipal services.

Details of other KPMG recommendations will be released over the next two weeks.

As much as the review presents a menu of cost-cutting options, it also outlines the vexing challenge of uncovering gravy at City Hall.

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The Public Works committee is responsible for slightly over $1-billion in spending, but consultants found that 96 per cent of all services that report to the Public Works committee are untouchable -- that is, they are either provincially legislated or necessary to the ongoing viability of the city.

Of those core functions, 30 per cent are operating at above mandated service level, offering an opportunity for service cuts, according to the consultants.

But that may not sit well with supporters or opponents of Mayor Ford, who pledged to cut city expenses without cutting city services.

Councillor Adam Vaughan said the first report from the review shows that savings can only be made through services cuts to areas that most taxpayers see as essential such as slow plowing. "There is no easy saving," he told reporters. "If there is gravy at city hall it's the stuff being paid to consultants to come up with this kind of stuff."

More than three quarters of tax dollars are spent on a handful of areas, figures from the 2010 budget show. They include police and transit, servicing debt, fire services, employment and social services and parks and recreation. For an average home owner who paid about $2,402 in property taxes that year, roughly $1,853 of that amount went to pay for those services, city numbers show.

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About the Authors
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

Toronto City Hall bureau chief


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