City budgets passed for 2011

The good news is that city approved its 2011 operating budget today with a tax freeze.

However, the 2012 budget is already shaping up to be one that will involve hikes in TTC fares and property taxes and selling off city assets to fix the projected $774 million hole for next year’s budget.

But that’s a worry for another day.

Mayor Rob Ford was beaming after the passage of the first operating budget of his administration.

“This is a great day for the taxpayers of the city. For the first time in 11 years we passed a zero percent tax increase,” Ford told the media. “We campaigned hard and definitely slowed down the gravy train.”

Ford said not only did he attend the four public meetings on the budget with hundreds of deputations, but personally returns calls from Torontonians regarding their priorities.

“If you talk to the citizens out there, I am sure 99 percent of them are happy at not having to pay higher taxes,” he said.

The city passed the $9.381 billion gross budget with few amendments.

Councillor John Filion that did get one through with a 44-1 vote to increase the Toronto Public Health Budget with one-time provincial funding of $100,000. This money from the provincial Ministry of Health and Long Term Care is earmarked for a communication strategy to encourage HIV and syphilis screening.

Mayor Ford was the only one to vote against this provincial money.

“Everyone says it’s provincial money. No it’s taxpayers’ money,” Ford explained his vote to the media.

Councillor Gord Perks tried unsuccessfully to add $3 million to the budget to avoid service cuts. His motion was for the cash to be spent to reverse service cuts to bus routes, put cash back in the Tenant Defence Fund, to avoid new fees for adults at priority centres where recreation programs were free and to increase the Toronto Ombudsman’s office. As part of this same package, Perks also wanted $100,000 spent to keep the Urban Affairs Library open.

Wednesday night, the city approved its 2011 capital budget of about $2.3 billion as well as solid waste, water and wastewater which are self-sustaining budgets funded by direct user fees.

Starting tomorrow, the city turns its eyes to the 2012 city budget.

The city manager Joseph Pennachetti and deputy city manager and chief financial officer Cam Weldon project a $774 million unfunded gap for next year’s budget in a 41 page Feb. 10 report.

Suggestions in that report to balance the 2012 budget include a 10 cent TTC fare hike that would generate about $30 million and an inflationary property tax increase of about two percent worth $47 million.

That coupled with revenue from Hydro and Enwave dividends would bring the budget hole down to $530 million.

A way to that fill hole is sell off city assets and the report suggests options including: selling off a maximum of 10 percent of Toronto Hydro, selling Enwave and the Toronto Parking Authority.

Budget chief Mike Del Grande said at this stage everything is on the table.

“What’s appropriate is the deputy city manager (Cam Weldon) will have to look at everything and anything,” said Del Grande. “This is a collective problem … it will go to committees.”

The city manager has also suggested spending up to $3 million to hire outside consultants to look for ways the city can cut costs.

“The $3 million was brought to my attention by the city manager,” Del Grande said. “They would go to third parties to look at (reporting) on efficiencies and how we do things. I think that’s legitimate.”

The city may need help looking for savings.

“We can only do what we can afford,” he said. “I think the concept in the past was let’s do everything even if we can’t afford it.”