Mayor Rob Ford has unveiled a city budget that curbs spending and boosts revenues with a combination of layoffs, service cuts, fee increase and a property tax hike.
Under Mr. Ford's plan, the city would balance its books by shedding 2,300 workers, jacking TTC fares by 10 cents and pulling $83-million from reserve funds – all resulting in a budget that's anticipated to come in $52-million lower than last year's $9.4-billion.
"For the first time ever, folks, we will spend less next year than we did this year," Mr. Ford said during a morning press conference. "That is unheard of."
City staff did not offer a full list of the $225-million in service cuts they have carved from the 2012 budget outlook released earlier this year, which anticipated a budget deficit as high as $774-million. Instead they opted to provide reporters with a few examples:
– defer hiring of 340 emergency workers;
– cut 7 per cent cut from the Toronto Public Library's budget for open hours and collections;
– reduce hours at arenas;
– terminate recreational programs at some share-use TDSB schools;
– shutter 5 wading pools and 2 outdoor pools;
– end WinterCity outdoor programming;
– close three shelters;
– and trim road cleaning by $4.2-million.
Councillors opposed to the mayor's cost-cutting agenda immediately called out Mr. Ford for a budget document that counters his campaign pledge to par down the budget without affecting city services.
"Remember this is the mayor that promised no service cuts," said Councillor Janet Davis. "And now we're seeing 2,300 layoffs."
Late last week, the Toronto Transit Commission pre-empted one of the most glaring of those service cuts, announcing reduced service on dozens of routes.
"You think this is a good budget, Mr. Mayor?" said Councillor Joe Mihevc. "Tell that to the people who are going to be waiting an extra five, 10, 15 minutes at the bus stop. Tell that to the kids who are losing their wading pool. Tell that to the people who want their parks trimmed more frequently."
Mr. Ford preferred to put the diminished service in a different light.
"Through our core service review, service efficiencies and modest service adjustments we found $355-million in savings this year," he said. "That's 10 per cent of our 2011 net budget."
Many of the cuts reflect Mr. Ford's demand for 10-per-cent cuts across most city departments. City Manager Joe Pennachetti admitted Monday morning that several departments missed the targets. He said Fire and EMS only managed a three per cent trim and Parks, Forest & Recreation managed a six per cent reduction.
On the revenue side, the TTC fare hike will yard in an extra $30-million and a 2.5 per cent property tax hike will yield $57-million.
"We feel it is an inflationary tax increase," said Mr. Pennachetti.
Staff also released a proposed capital budget that slices $1.1-billion from planned TTC projects over the coming nine years, including purchases of subway cars, streetcars and platform edge barriers at subway stations.
Budget chief Mike Del Grande hailed the document, telling the budget committee: "It's too bad the rest of the world doesn't have the courage to do what we are doing today."
The morning's presentation of the budget was interrupted by hecklers. Two men were expelled from the council room and the meeting relocated to a smaller room.
Monday simply marks the launch of the budget process. The document will filter through a series of public budget committee meetings in December before going to council on Jan. 17.
Herewith, a few of the budget adjustments that will have the largest impact.
1. Fee hikes: On top of a property-tax hike of 2.5 per cent, Toronto residents are being asked to shell out more for everything from a bus ride to an art class. A 10-cent TTC fare increase is expected to generate $30-million. The city is counting on increased and new charges to bring in an extra $12-million. That includes a 10-per-cent jump in fees for fitness, arts and music programs and increases of between 5 and 15 per cent for ice permits.
2. Swimming and skating: Less ice time and fewer pools are part of the money-saving plans. Ten stand-alone arenas will be closed weekdays between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. The city will stop programs in seven of 33 TDSB pools, close five wading pools and shut two outdoor pools to save money. Sites were selected based on use and maintenance costs.
3. Libraries: While the budget avoids branch closings, it does recommend a 7-per-cent reduction in open hours and purchasing of materials. That translates into 19 libraries remaining open on Sundays – down from 27 – and a 17,000-hour trim from various branches.
4. Streets: City staff are recommending a range of cuts to street cleaning, snow clearing and leaf collection. Street cleaning will be reduced by 30 per cent and mechanical leaf collection will be eliminated, meaning residents of Etobicoke, York and Scarborough will be forced to rake and bag leaves like the rest of Torontonians. Sidewalk snow clearing will be eliminated on local roads.
5. Shelters: The city is proposing to close three shelters for vulnerable residents: Downsview Dells, a 27-resident transitional home for men attending addiction treatment; Birchmount, a 60-bed shelter for older men; and Bellwoods, a 10-bed home for women 50 years or older who have a history of homelessness and mental illness. Despite the closings, the city will retain 97 per cent of its current homeless beds, according to city staff.
What was said about the budget:
"It's unheard of, folks, that we spend less money next year than we do this year. It's unheard of. This is the way every government should be going." – Mayor Rob Ford
"It's too bad the rest of the world doesn't have the courage to do what we are doing today." – Budget chief Mike Del Grande
"The idea that it took courage to write this budget. It took gumption. The big numbers show the big cuts aren't needed." – Rob Ford critic Councillor Adam Vaughan
"It's unprecedented in modern times." – CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson on the proposed elimination of 2,300 city jobs
"We can afford to make the city better. It's a deliberate choice on the part of the budget chief and the mayor to try and make the city worse." – left-leaning Councillor Gordon Perks