The fight over cuts to Toronto Fire Services and an unfulfilled promise to cut recreation fees for adults in the city’s priority centres will likely be fought on the floor of council next week, according York Centre Councillor James Pasternak.
The councillor and budget committee member said council will have to be the final arbiter, after his attempts to alter the budget were rebuffed at the final meeting of the city’s budget committee Wednesday.
Pasternak had hoped to send the proposed cuts to Toronto Fire Services on to Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting without recommendation, because he said the budget committee had insufficient information to make the cuts.
And he had tried through several motions to have recreation fees for adults waived in recreation facilities located in priority centres.
“That was a council directive (to remove adult recreation fees) and I’m a little surprised at the pushback at budget,” said Pasternak. “We’re going to have to fix that at council – we’re going to have to fix a few other things.”
Pasternak made the motions after city staff revealed Toronto’s annual budget surplus from 2012 was much higher than anticipated, sitting at $232 million.
He argued that under the circumstances, the city didn’t necessarily need to make cuts to Toronto Fire Services that involve shutting down a station and not filling 100 positions. And he said the city needed to make good on a council directive to remove adult recreation fees.
“Look, the financial fundamentals of the city are actually quite strong – our economic activity, our tertiary fees, our property tax base – the basics are quite strong, better than many municipalities,” he said.
Pasternak’s position drew the scorn of budget chief Mike Del Grande, who was adamant the city not dip into its surplus to fund ongoing programs.
Del Grande suggested Pasternak was simply caving in to the powerful firefighters’ union.
“The problem with the firefighters is that they are a very strong group, they provide cheques, funding, and everybody’s afraid of them,” said Del Grande. “I have difficulty with councillors when they’re afraid what can happen in an election.”
Pasternak said he is not motivated by fear of or desire to placate Toronto’s firefighters.