Parkdale-High Park residents want more money spent on the TTC, parks and recreation and the city’s planning, councillors heard at a Jan. 8 Budget Town Hall meeting.
Hosted by Parkdale-High Park councillors Sarah Doucette (Ward 13) and Gord Perks (Ward 14), the goal was to get feedback from residents before the pair debated the budget at council Jan. 15 to 17.
“We need to know where you would like us to fight to put money back into the budget and where you think we should fight to take it out,” Doucette told the group of about 30 people.
To begin, Perks gave residents an overview of the 2013 capital and operating budgets.
This year’s proposed $9.4-billion operating budget includes a two per cent residential property tax increase, while the $15.3-billion capital budget includes funding for road repairs and more than $500 million to fix the Gardiner Expressway.
Perks said his main criticism of the 2013 budget is that it focuses too heavily on infrastructure, while services in the city continue to decline.
“Essentially what this budget says is that we are going to put a 60 per cent down payment on capital expenditures,” Perks said, adding he believes the city should make a smaller down payment, borrow the remainder of the money while interest rates are low and use the money saved in other areas such as protecting and enhancing services.
Perks and Doucette explained the budget does include cuts to the number of firefighters the city has, parks and recreation staff and public health nurses. But perhaps more concerning than specific cuts, said Perks, is there is no money being put into improving services that make Toronto a good place to live.
Before breaking residents into groups to discuss the budget, Perks asked them to keep in mind the things they hoped the city would get done this year.
“What makes Toronto a great place to live and what do we want to protect?” Perks said. “How do service cuts effect our community... what is the long-term picture beyond 2013?”
Following the half-hour visioning session, each of the five groups reported back to the councillors.
Speaking on behalf of his group, retired teacher and Swansea resident Manfred Netzel said his group focused on the Toronto Transit Commission and had identified transit as its biggest priority.
“Congestion is choking the city,” Netzel said.
His group discussed how the current funding formula for the TTC punishes the people who use public transit by forcing them to pay for it. A solution would be road tolls, which would generate the money to support public transit, Netzel’s group said.
Parkdale resident Alicia Pang said her group discussed how they would like to see more money allocated to increasing the tree canopy in city parks as well as to hire youth workers to run programs in parks and at recreation centres.
“We need more city planning (staff) because they are overworked, and planners are needed to keep an eye on development and manage density,” Pang said.
High Park resident Sandra Van, speaking on behalf of the group of residents she brainstormed with, said there were lots of opinions thrown around the table.
She said this budget means a slow death to services in the city.
“Where is the long-term planning for the people of this city?” Van said.
Van said while her group knows the police service is vital, they are OK with cuts to its budget – even if it means fewer officers – providing the money gets spent on the city planning division.