Fare and tax hikes in city budget

Hours of operation to be reduced at libraries and ice rinks to close the budget gap.

Torontonians can expect a 2.5 percent property tax hike, 10 cent TTC fare increase and reduced branch library hours and ice-time at selected arenas if the 2012 budget is approved as it was presented on Nov. 28. 

Touting the draft as a “smart budget” that moves the city closer to fiscal sustainability, Mayor Rob Ford said staff made some tough decisions. 

The cuts are a result of a directive issued by Ford earlier in the year to all city departments demanding a 10-percent reduction in budgets to close an apparent $774 million budget gap. This directive followed an independent auditor’s report that evaluated core city services and reviewed the city’s finances. 

“With an opening pressure of $774 million, which we inherited from the previous government, we were faced with some daunting prospects,” Ford said during his opening remarks at committee, held in council chambers. 

As expected, the TTC was not spared from service level reductions, as the budget recommended a return to 2008 peak service standards on bus and streetcar routes. This double-hit of reduced service and fare hike comes despite an estimated ridership growth of six million passengers. The budget also includes the slashing of over 2,300 jobs from the city’s overall work force. 

However, the city will continue to fund the completion of up to 100 kilometres of off-street bicycle paths, the purchase of new light rail vehicles, and a variety of infrastructure initiatives including the continued expansion of the Leaside Memorial Gardens Arena in the capital budget. The draft budget allocates a hefty $114 million for the relocation and replacement of three police stations, including 13 Division in Forest Hill, and 54 Division, located in East York. 

The launch of the budget was not without drama. Hecklers repeatedly interrupted Ford as he made his opening remarks. The interruptions prompted budget chief Mike Del Grande to call a recess, and move the meeting to a committee room. 

The launch of the draft budget is phase 1 of a six-week process that includes public consultations and committee reviews. Council will vote on the final budget on Jan. 17–19. 

Here’s what some of our local councillors had to say about the 2012 draft budget on the day of the launch: 

Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) on a reported surplus of $139 million that was not included in the budget: “We have money to use in 2012 and the mayor and the city manager are recommending cuts rather using our surplus to keep services going. So the 29 hours a week in the libraries in Ward 30, there’s no reason for that be on the table.”

Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) on city staff cuts: “I think it’s very reasonable to downsize management. There have been criticisms for years that there’s been the manager of a manager of a manager, so I think if we can tighten our belts and deal with the fiscal reality, that’s just fine, as long as it doesn’t have a directly adverse effect on the services that they’re mandated to deliver.” 

John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) on the slashing of a student nutrition program: “I’m shock and appalled. These are the poorest neighbourhoods. We’re talking about hungry kids starting their day, trying to learn with empty stomachs and we’re being forced to shut down those programs to save $400,000.”

About this article:

By: Karolyn Coorsh
Posted: Nov 29 2011 5:08 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto