Wednesday's meeting to review and mobilize around the 2009 City of Toronto operating budget, hosted by the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, highlighted some of the key messages coming from the budget, and identified main themes that the community sector could employ in responding to the message.
City Budget Chief Shelley Carroll stressed that this is a budget that maintains services, provides for some slight enhancements in critical areas such as student nutrition, increases access to libraries and some other community services, and that allows for a significant anticipated increase in social assistance caseloads. It moves forward on some areas where increased user fees are being implemented (not only to generate required revenue, but to promote behavioural change, particularly in support of a 'green' agenda), and calls for a 4% overall increase in property taxes. This increase is ameliorated for low-income individuals and tenants.
Michael Shapcott (Wellesley Institute) spoke to the modest increases in housing/homelessness support, while Sunita Khandehwal (Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care) indicated that while the budget maintains child care spaces for 2009, a crisis looms in 2010 when federal funding ends. Rob Howarth of Toronto Neighbourhood Centres identified that the Community Grants envelope has been increased by a 2% inflation factor increase, with an additional $600,000 investment over the next year in community services to develop the Community Partnerships Strategy. CSPC-T distributed a two-page synopsis of budget highlights.
After questions and discussion, the consensus of the meeting included:
- overall, the budget is an appropriate, if limited, response to our current economic situation
- there are some positive steps, including additional funding for student nutrition, which can be built upon in future years
- the continuation of inflation-related increases to the Community Partnership Investment Program is an important acknowledgement of the need to maintain services at least at current levels
- the 4% property tax increase (with the protections for low income families and the lower impact on tenants) is a reasonable price to pay to maintain services and sustain employment at a time of growing insecurity and need.
Individuals and organizations were encouraged to take three specific actions:
- Register to depute and speak at the budget hearings on February 18 (Board members, staff, service users, and community residents)
- In preparing your deputation consider how critical community supports are in tough times, and what a difference they make. Also, try to encourage and support community members, program participants and your volunteers to be the speakers. Consider having people depute in other languages than English too – with someone translating for the Councillors.
- Tanya Gulliver from Toronto Neighbourhood Centres has prepared a very useful guide, How to make a deputation.
- To make a deputation email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-392-8016 and provide the clerk with a name, mail address and phone number for the deputant(s).
- Attend the deputations and bring friends, colleagues, and community members to be part of the audience to show support for the broad strokes of the budget
- There will be lots of people in attendance and we're working on ways to recognize all the people there to support the City's budget.
- Contact your City Councillor(s) and the Mayor by email, letter, or telephone to indicate support for the budget
- If you need contact information or need to figure out who your Councillor is, check out this link from the city: http://app.toronto.ca/wards/jsp/wards.jsp