This past weekend, newspaper headlines were warning Toronto that 2010 would be the year that the city budget is cut to pieces. As the Globe reported, city staff have been asked to present to top city bureaucrats budgets that factor in a sustainable and permanent five per cent cut to their operating budget in 2010 and a further five per cent cut in 2011. In total, the city hopes to find almost $350 million in savings.
While the perception that waste is abundant at city hall permeates the body politic, if city council ends up approving a package of cuts that totals the reported $343 million, public services are going to be markedly reduced. As Jackson Proskow of Global Television reported via Twitter today, staff are using service levels from this past summer’s strike as a prospective operating model when forecasting scenarios for a -10 per cent scenario.
But the point of this post isn’t to talk about those cuts. There will be plenty of time for that next month when agencies, boards and commissions start to approve their operating budget submissions that get sent to decision-makers at city hall. This is just to contextualize a decision city council made this afternoon.
The decision: council narrowly voted to use a portion of the surplus of money accumulated as a result of the reduced service levels during the civic workers’ strike to offset the proposed two per cent garbage fee increase for 2010. The 22-19 vote was thanks to mushy middle councillors that Mayor David Miller used to have in his pocket (Raymond Cho, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Georgio Mammoliti and Frank Di Georgio) springing free to further their resume as political opportunists.
The strike surplus fund used to offset the fee hike is intended to be used to make up for the shortfall in the city’s 2010 operating budget. As has been widely reported, that fund accumulated more than $30 million in spite of garbage workers not going door-to-door since the temporary dump operations ended up costing the city more than it would for regular household pickup.
The $4.8 million it took to save each household about $5 (the increase that had been proposed for those with medium-sized bins) is a tiny amount in an operating budget that reaches upwards of $9 billion. However, I can’t foresee Lindsay Luby giving up her prized Etobicoke leaf collection service, nor Mammoliti paring down the Zoo budget when it might cost him a trip to have pointless conversations about Pandas in China, without a great fight. And that’s to say nothing of all the programs that mean the world to small pockets of constituents across the city and cost less than $5 million.
Don’t get me wrong, as far as tomorrow’s headlines are concerned, voting Yes to Karen Stintz’s motion is good politics. Even come next year when the Yes votes are all campaigning for re-election I bet telling constituents (just homeowners, actually) â€œI saved you from another Miller fee,â€ is going to win a few hearts. But winning this vote had nothing to do with improving the state of the city. As Shelley Carroll pointed out to members of council during debate, voting against this year’s fee hike puts the city on a similar course to what it was on when Mel Lastman began freezing property taxes in the Megacity’s infancy. The yeses in this case know as well as anyone how Lastman’s freezes turned out (Mammoliti has publicly admitted it was wrong of him to vote for them) and that whether it comes from cuts to services, a different fee hike or tax increase later, Torontonians will pay.
Photograph by wvs.