City service cuts coming

Maybe we missed them with over 160 people of an expected 300 or more making deputations as to why many of the services provided in this city and paid for with public monies should not be cut or done away with. But what Toronto City Council was asking the public for were ideas about how to maintain services more efficiently; how to keep services operating while staying within budget and, if not, what services should be cut.

Given the anticipated $774-million 2012 budget shortfall, it’s a fair request.

It would be easy enough to make the Council and especially the Ford brothers – Mayor Rob and his brother, rookie councillor, Doug – the bad guys here. But the fact is that Toronto City Council cannot run a deficit. That is the law. And with $60-million less coming in after Mayor Ford and those councillors who sided with him voted to revoke the vehicle licensing fee – a move that was widely welcomed – cuts will have to be made or taxes will have to be raised. Ford is also planning to hold to his promise of incrementally eliminating the City’s land transfer tax. That’s another $220-million or so in annual revenue to be lost.

In his remarkably effective mayoral campaign, Ford repeatedly proclaimed his plan to cut wasteful spending without cutting services, but running a political campaign and running a government are two different animals.

Most people understand this which would explain why there were people at the marathon hearing at City Hall last week who said they were willing to have their taxes raised in order to keep what they deem either vital services or ones that enhance the city and make it still one of the best places in the world to live.

Of course there is the argument that Ford’s conservative politics is what is driving this discourse; that the cutting of government spending is really meant to drastically pare down the size of government, while public money continues to be spent on law and order, crime and punishment. Some 17,000 city employees have already been offered buyouts and, during his mayoral campaign, Ford did promise to hire more police officers.

This deep swing to the right is what we have been seeing from the federal Harper government and, even more draconian, south of the border from the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement.

So it is not much of stretch to conclude that the conservative Ford and his inner circle might be leaning in a similar direction.

Philosophies aside, however, there is a real challenge before us as to how we will be able to pay for all the services we want to keep while dealing with the budget shortfall.

The mayor has already moved to contract out half of the city’s waste disposal. What are some of the other options?

The zoo! Wouldn’t it be better to privatize it than cut childcare subsidies, student nutrition and dental health programs? Wouldn’t it be better to merge the operations of Exhibition Place and Ontario Place than to cut late night TTC blue line bus routes? The workers who use the blue line are precisely the people who cannot afford the cost of a nightly cab ride or a car.

In the same vein, wouldn’t it be better also to sell three municipally-owned theatres – the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts and the Toronto Centre for the Arts – than to reduce library hours and close branches? Or to amalgamate emergency services with the fire department to save money since so many of the calls that fire stations receive are for health emergencies?

Better yet, why don’t councillors themselves take a cut in pay? Or why not reduce the number of councillors to 22 plus the mayor? Do we really need all of them?

It remains to be seen whether the cuts to be made – for we are sure they are coming – will improve service efficiency in our city or just serve some other conservative agenda.

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