City Centre Mirror
Toronto homeowners will be paying on average $48 more property taxes in 2013 — an increase of 1.95 per cent but will have to make do with higher user fees, fewer firefighters and possibly fewer police officers too, if Toronto’s 2013 budget is to come out balanced.
The police cuts are crucial, according to City Manager Joe Pennachetti, if the city is to balance the budget and move toward a fiscally sustainable one — that doesn’t rely on drawing down one-time reserves to balance.
The Toronto Police Services Board, he said, must deliver $21 million in cuts to its budget, or else the budget won’t be balanced.
“If the police budget does not meet the target of zero, any shortfall should not rely on the prior year surplus,” Pennachetti told the city’s budget committee. He added it shouldn’t rely on assessment growth, as has happened in the past.
The budget, which was unveiled on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 29, during the break in council’s regular meeting, is the third budget presented by the Ford administration. Pennachetti made it’s clear that the goal of sustainability is getting nearer, but there will still have to be reductions to meet it.
Among the recommended reductions this year is a deletion of 104 positions from Toronto Fire Services — three per cent of the service’s staffing. According to Pennachetti, 91 of those will be front line firefighters.
The budget recommends cutting funding for the Global AIDS initiative, and cutting off ambulatory dialysis patients from automatic Wheel Trans eligibility.
It also looks at $169 million in increased revenue to deal with an initial shortfall of $465 million, in addition to $46 million in tax increases from business and homeowners, and another $27 million from assessment growth.
City staff anticipate assessment growth will be somewhat higher than that by year’s end.
The city is looking at finding a total of $169 million in efficiencies and cost savings, and to squeeze $44 million out of reduced capital financing costs.
That still leaves the city $10 million in the hole, and with $11 million in new services, that leaves the city waiting on the police to respond.
“The message is very clear that we expect $21 million (in efficiencies),” said budget chief Mike Del Grande, who dismissed suggestions from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair that such a cut would mean layoffs of front line police officers.
On the capital side, the budget will see massive transportation spending — notably, to rehabilitate the Gardiner Expressway, which this past summer had been showing dangerous levels of deterioration. The capital budget allocates $636 million to repairing that highway, of a total transportation state of good repair budget of $670 million.
Don Valley East Councillor Shelley Carroll, who was budget chief under Mayor David Miller, called this budget “the war on community safety.”
“The war on the car is over — we’ve got lots of money for the car in this budget, and that’s fine except that it would seem that budget chief Del Grande and the mayor’s brother and the mayor are declaring a war on safety,” said Carroll.
“The police are having trouble finding $21 million in efficiencies — and if they find even part of that, if the property tax goes up that’s going to be blamed on Chief Blair.”
The budget will go to review at the budget committee next week, then public hearings on Dec. 10 and 11 for public input.
Wrap-up will take place Dec. 12 to 17 at budget committee. The executive committee and council will then deal with the budget in January.