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Toronto Facing skilled staff shortage, city hires temp workers

The City of Toronto has more than 2,500 unfilled jobs and is bringing in extra staff to speed up recruiting efforts.

The staff shortage is most acute for skilled workers in planning, health and information technology, the city's budget committee was told Tuesday. It's one of the contributing factors to a surplus that the city's chief financial officer said he expects will be about $100-million by the end of the year.

The latest spending update, delivered to the city's budget committee, comes as council gears up for its final round of budget talks before the 2014 municipal vote.

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A report by the city's CFO, Roberto Rossini, forecasts the city will finish 2013 with a $59-million surplus.

Mr. Rossini revised that estimate further when speaking to the committee Tuesday, saying his "gut feel" is that the final surplus will probably be around the "$100-million mark."

Part of the surplus will come from savings in salaries and benefits because of unfilled staff vacancies, which totalled 2,542 at the end of June, or about 5 per cent lower than the number approved by council.

Higher-than-expected revenue from the land transfer tax, driven by an increase in real estate activity and higher property values, also is contributing to the surplus.

The unfilled jobs are saving the city about $33-million, but Councillor Gord Perks said it is coming at the expense of service delivery.

"It makes a sham of our budget process," he told the budget committee, saying the failure to hire means delays in areas such as building permits.

The city has hired five temporary staff to speed up recruiting in divisions that are experiencing the most difficulty and is planning to bring in five more, City Manager Joe Pennachetti said.

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"That should get us through the next year," he said.

Staff was asked to provide a recruiting update next month, as well as a breakdown of unfilled positions.

Looking forward to the 2014 budget, which will be unveiled in November, budget chair Frank Di Giorgio said he is hoping to hold residential tax increases at 1.75 per cent and to cut the land transfer tax by 10 per cent, as requested by Mayor Rob Ford.

"Despite all the other pressures, I think the message is we have to work very hard to meet those objectives," he told reporters.

A new staff report also released Tuesday estimates the city will face a funding gap of $228-million if the residential property tax increase is held at 1.75 per cent.

The report to the city's government management committee is part of a service-level review being conducted by all city standing committees in advance of the 2014 budget debate.

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