Toronto Star columnist Royson James’s column today outlines 10 things Mayor David Miller should do in wake of Toronto’s budgetary crisis. Here are his suggestions (and we’d love to hear your opinion on James’ proposal):
1. Cut councillors’ perks and salaries. Before going to the public with a recovery plan, remove the biggest budgetary obstacle and source of public anger. Cut councillors’ office budgets by about 20 per cent; end their free golf passes and zoo passes; roll back their recent 9 per cent pay hike to $87,214.
Councillor Peter Milczyn says his Etobicoke constituents can’t accept cutbacks to skating rinks while city councillors refuse to cut their office expense budget.
2. Prepare a “State of the City” address to council in September. Encourage media to carry the address live, giving Miller direct access to citizens’ living rooms.
They want to know that there is a calm hand at the helm, an accounting of the price of victory or defeat, and what sacrifices they need to make. This address is to educate and inspire, to rally council and the city behind a mission — pulling Toronto out of the morass of fiscal restraint, with or without the help of the premier or the Prime Minister.
He’d announce how he might:
Cut waste, explore all revenue sources, and consider innovative ideas that save money without destroying Toronto’s quality of life and commitment to a vibrant civil service.
Open up a “Waste Not” hotline where civic workers can report wasteful practices in their departments. Distribute some “T-Dot. Waste Not” T-shirts.
Lead the battle with the provincial and federal governments to secure proper and sustainable funding for Toronto and all cities.
Deliver to the late October council meeting a recovery plan with a mix of property taxes, city-controlled revenues and user fees, innovative financing and other measures needed to put Toronto on a sound footing — with and without help from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.
3. Open the city’s books to public scrutiny. Many claim there are mounds of waste at city hall. Bring in a team of business experts, CEOs, and other pit bulls from the private sector to look at the city’s entrails and find the waste that’s believed to be hidden.
Keep a couple of spots for representatives from employee unions and social agencies.
Have the “Waste Busters” report in 30 days, even if this means just a “scoped” audit of the big departments such as the TTC, police and housing. Commit to act on the recommendations.
City manager Shirley Hoy welcomes the scrutiny as a chance for vindication. Staff have fulfilled 80 per cent of more than 800 recommendations from the city’s independent auditor general. Still, people don’t believe.
4. Call an emergency council debate on plan.
The question? Philosophically, is the city to be governed by traditional values of providing services for everyone, using property taxes; or will services be reduced to a core, with user fees funding the rest? Settle this as a template for the future.
5. Deliver a “Made in Toronto” recovery plan to each citizen. Based on principles set during the emergency debate, convene a team of city councillors to draft a recovery plan and deliver it to each citizen. As a symbol of the new relationship with the private sector, secure a private-sector partner to pay the postage for the door-to-door delivery.
Tell the truth about what it costs to run Big City Toronto. Each government has a role. Queen’s Park must pay its bills and reverse the downloading. Ottawa must invest in Toronto as a calling card city, not treat it as an outcast. And Torontonians will have to pay more to avert disastrous decline. How much more? That will depend on the success of lobbying other governments and finding waste. So, include in the recovery plan a guide on how to lobby MPs and MPPs.
6. Go on the road to sell the plan. In a weekend campaign-style road show that takes him to each of the 44 city wards over 48 hours, Miller leads a blitz to raise awareness and talk to citizens about the city’s challenges. Stage this the last weekend in September, when the provincial election campaign is in full throttle.
Ideally, all 44 councillors, a battery of staff, volunteers from social agencies, the cultural community, and civic leaders would speak with residents, inform them of the issues and urge them to hold provincial candidates accountable by asking them what they intend to do for Toronto and other cities. Community groups and associations could be encouraged to stage their own demonstrations, barbecues, fall fests, mock funerals, etc. in support of the initiative.
7. Forge partners for a federal blitz. Meet with the City Summit Alliance, the Toronto Board of Trade and key business leaders with ties to the federal Conservatives to step up the “1 Cent Now” campaign — a drive that seeks 1 cent of the GST to be used to help cities fund services, an amount totalling $450 million in Toronto alone.
“City-building without the business community is a losing proposition,” says Councillor Brian Ashton. “If you can’t convince the business leaders of the merit of your city-building vision, forget the public.”
8. Announce “Waste-Buster” findings. Make a ceremony of it. Show the public city hall is committed to eliminate any waste uncovered. Make it a positive, civic duty, with the benefit of saving essential services now threatened.
9. Deliver progress report prior to tax vote. With the provincial election over, greater knowledge of when the province will upload its costs from the city, prospects for other revenues, mayor recommends to council any amendments to the land transfer tax and vehicle registration fee hikes deferred in July to the Oct. 22 council.
10. Win the council vote. Reach out to city council, build on the credibility gained from the recovery plan, secure the vote. Clear up councillors’ issues. Don’t take the vote to council until victory is assured.