On December 19, the Budget Committee reviewed several preliminary budgets. I provide highlights on the following budgets: TTC, Affordable Housing, Children's Services, Social Development, Finance and Administration (including community grants under the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP) and the poverty reduction strategy), Association of Community Centres (AOCCs), Arena Boards of Management. Plus see info on the discontinuation of the cooling centre program.
Photo credit: City of Toronto, Poverty Reduction Strategy
Here are my notes from the December 19 Budget Committee meeting:
Poverty Reduction Strategy
- The poverty reduction strategy (PRS) workplan calls for $54 million gross in the operating budget and $64.73 million gross in the capital budget; the vast majority of these funds are included in the 2017 preliminary budget; however, these are not new and enhanced services; it is largely to maintain existing services including new programs introduced in 2016
- The City identifies the need for $3.676 million for new and enhanced services for PRS which are not included in the 2017 preliminary budget; the following new and enhanced services are not included in the budget:
- $2.1 million for the 5th year of the 6-year student nutrition plan which includes funds to improve existing student nutrition programs and to introduce new ones
- $826,000 for the expansion of youth hubs in libraries, wi-fi hotspots lending, and Sunday library hours (from the Toronto Public Library analyst notes: "Budget enhancements totaling $0.826 million net and gross comprised of enhancements to the Internet Wi-Fi hotspot lending program introduced in 2016, opening of two additional Youth Hubs and additional funding for programming costs, and expansion of Sunday service open hours at six additional District branches which are in support of the City's Poverty Reduction Strategy")
- $750,000 for 75 new subsidized child care spaces
- Staff also mentioned that the $31.2 million to fill the Toronto Community Housing budget shortfall is also significant to poverty reduction. Councillor Davis was quick to note that maintaining existing affordable housing does not represent progress on poverty reduction.
- At this point, the preliminary budget does not identify funds for any new and enhanced programs and services to move the Poverty Reduction Strategy forward
Community Grants, Neighbourhood Improvement Areas & Cooling Centre Program
- The preliminary budget does not include an inflationary increase for community services provided by nonprofits under the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP); $382,000 is needed to fund the increase
- A briefing note will be provided on CPIP which is administered through four divisions/agencies (Toronto Public Health, Economic Development and Culture, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, and Social Development, Finance and Administration)
- A staff report is expected in March reporting on investment and achievements in Toronto's Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (formerly Priority Neighbourhoods), including service plans for these areas
- The cooling centre program is operated by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) within the Policy, Planning, Finance and Administration division. The budget recommends that it be discontinued. It was formerly operated through Shelter, Support and Housing Administration. Under the program, 7 centres operate as cooling centres including the civic centres and Metro Hall during heat alert days to provide a place for people to cool off. Trained volunteers from Fred Victor Centre staff the centres, providing support, water and granola bars. OEM staff said the program is not meeting the need; it is not well attended and does not reach many of the target population intended for the program including isolated seniors, people with vulnerabilities and people who are homeless. OEM staff also said that the program is outside of their mandate which is to prepare and implement plans for addressing citywide emergencies. Staff note that the civic centres and Metro Hall will continue to be open and available to the public. However, the trained volunteers would not be in place to provide support.
- Toronto Public Health recommended the creation of the cooling centre program. There is a conflict between these two divisions on this issue. Councillor Perks noted that there are over 100,000 vulnerable residents who would be at risk of death from extended heat exposure. He and Councillor Davis are concerned about the loss of this program through the budget process. Councillor Davis remarked that it's not appropriate to make a decision to change policy through the budget process. Budget decisions should follow from the policy decisions made by Council, and Council has not adopted a direction to remove these programs. It sounds like changes are needed for the program to be effective in reaching and providing support to vulnerable residents but cutting the budget won't provide that option to rejig the program by next Summer.
- The subway system is 60 years old and at the end of its useful life; the TTC is doing a lot of catch up to modernize the whole thing; 80% of TTC riders reported high satisfaction in the Spring but it went down to 70% in the Summer due to train cars lacking A/C; that's going to get fixed by next Summer
- Ridership has increased but not to projected levels resulting in less revenue than anticipated in 2016; because ridership was not up sufficiently and due to financial challenges, TTC decided not to expand some services planned for in September 2016
- Wheel-trans ridership has increased dramatically (28% increase in 2016); the TTC is working to make the conventional transit system more accessible so that there is less demand for Wheel-trans and also to have a more integrated system between TTC conventional and Wheel-trans service; the provincial government has mandated that Wheel-trans be accessible for people with cognitive impairments as well as physical ones which will mean a greater demand for the service but the provincial government is not providing any funds to facilitate this access
- There are other provincially-mandated accessibility changes being made that are also not supported by provincial dollars
- The provincial government is also introducing its cap and trade system aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions; the TTC will have to pay $5 million in 2017 for cap and trade with the amount increasing to $25 million annually in five years; TTC CEO says public transit should be exempt from these fees since the TTC, as a public transit provider, is all about reducing greenhouse gases by moving people out of their cars; the fee presents another burden for public transit
- The budget includes a 10 cent fare increase for adult tokens or 3.4%, and similar fare hike for metropasses, resulting in $28.7 million in new revenues
- There is $5 million in unspecified reductions in the budget; the TTC CEO said he is determined not to cut services but has to figure out how to save this money
- The TTC CEO says the budget does not cut services but it also doesn't improve them; the Toronto Star reported that one-quarter of TTC routes are overcrowded at some point during the day; the budget doesn't do anything to improve that situation
- The TTC is waiting for new streetcars and is running buses on streetcar routes to address some of the overcrowding
- There's $5,811,600 missing from the budget for items described as "new and enhanced"; the TTC CEO says these are not new and enhanced activities, it's about a continuation of service improvement; City staff have categorized it as new and enhanced
- These items missing from the budget include:
- Stations transformation ($1.8558 million; training for staff to move out of the booths to provide customer service in the station); this major change will take place once the tokens, tickets and passes are phased out with the implementation of PRESTO; there's no plan at this time to phase out cash payments
- Fit for Duty ($1.3 million; random drug and alcohol testing of staff as directed by TTC board)
- Track safety plan ($1.3302 million; TTC staff mentioned the track worker killed in 2012; these funds would address safety issues)
- Signal, track, traction reliability ($1.228 million, improve reliability of system)
- Transit enforcement officers ($0.0976 million; brings on more enforcement with expanded subway system and addresses loss of police transit patrol unit)
- The TTC budget is not yet balanced; TTC figure is $72.6 million missing; City has a lower figure of $51 million gap; if the gap isn't filled, it will result in TTC service cuts
- Read TTC Riders' latest take on the TTC Budget here
Affordable Housing Office
- The City created about 500 new affordable housing units annually in past 3 years, just under half of the City's target of 1,000 units per year
- Federal social infrastructure funds will bring more money to City for affordable housing; we'll know what's in the federal budget in February
- Mayor's open door program will fast-track the building of new affordable housing once federal/provincial funding is available
- Child care user fees to parents using child care centres located in schools will increase as a result of the elimination of the City's child care rent subsidy to school boards; fees will increase by $1.35 a day or $351 a year per child based on the worse case scenario; this affects parents of 3,500-4,000 younger children and 7-8,000 school-age children (fee impact is less than $351 a year for families with school-age children because it only applies to full-time care provided in the Summer)
- The City is paying $6.50 per square foot to TDSB; under new agreements, the fee for providers could go as high as $11.06 per square foot
- The City will save $2.6 million annually from no longer subsidizing child care rents in schools
- Over the next five years, the City plans to create about 2,000 new child care spaces but no new subsidies are planned for these new child care spaces; over 18,000 children are on the waiting list for subsidized child care in Toronto
- Last year, the Mayor moved a motion to add 200 child care spaces over the next two years; they are not in this budget; 75 new subsidized spaces are identified as new and enhanced services but not included in the budget; they are brought forward for consideration in the budget process; it would cost $750,000 to add these 75 spaces
- Council also directed staff to move $2 million of child care costs into the base budget instead of relying on one-time unsustainable revenues but this is not included in the budget
- Read the Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care's latest take on the Children's Services Budget here
Association of Community Centres (AOCCs)
From the City of Toronto analyst notes: "The Association of Community Centres (AOCCs) consist of 10 volunteer board-run multi-purpose facilities providing a broad range of community, recreation and social service programs to residents in the local community."
AOCC members are:
- 519 Church Street Community Centre
- Applegrove Community Complex
- Cecil Community Centre
- Central Eglinton Community Centre
- Community Centre 55
- Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre
- Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (formerly Harbourfront Community Centre)
- Ralph Thornton Centre
- Scadding Court Community Centre
- Swanesa Town Hall
The operating budget for AOCCs is up 1.5% and does not meet the 2.6% budget reduction target. The proposed budget does not recommend making these cuts. If the 2.6% cut were implemented, AOCC staff spoke about what the impact would be:
- Applegrove would close at 5 p.m. which would mean the afterschool program would close at 5 p.m. not 6 p.m. which would present a challenge for parents; the evening teen program would be cancelled.
- Eastview would layoff two part-time evening receptionists and have to stretch the staff complement to fill these roles, resulting in cuts to programming.
- Ralph Thornton Centre would close on Sundays and cancel its Sunday programming.
The representatives from the AOCCs could only speak for these three centres.
Market-based user fees are increasing for different types of room and space bookings.
Arena Boards of Management
From the City of Toronto analyst notes: "The Arena Boards of Management are 8 Board-managed arenas that offer use of ice (i.e. Hockey, figure skating), programming, and pleasure skating to the community. Some arenas also offer dry floor rentals (i.e. floor hockey) in the summer. These services are complemented with snack bars, pro-shops, and meeting room rentals at some locations."
The proposed budget includes several market-based user fee increases and new fees for 2017:
- McCormick: The arena will introduce subsidized, small and large ice-pad rates for "home-based" youth community groups. The large ice-pad fee is $150.44 per hour while the small ice-pad fee is $105.31 per hour.
- William H. Bolton: The arena will introduce a Boys and Girls Hockey Skills program for a fee of $225.00 per participant.
- Moss Park: The arena will introduce winter-league rates (team: $6,946.90 and individual: $663.71) for Men (C-division)."
- Tell Council not to cut services and to invest in transit, good jobs and affordable housing! Sign the petition at www.torontocandobetter.ca
- Check out the City of Toronto's budget presentations: Cluster A (Community and Social Services), Cluster B (City Building and Infrastructure), TTC.
- Briefing notes: Contributions to and Withdrawals from Reserves/Reserve Funds - BN#1, 2017 Gapping Levels - BN#2, State of Good Repair (SOGR) Backlog - BN#1 (the briefing links were not working at time of posting but check back; City will be fixing them)
Next Up ... The Budget Committee meets on Tuesday, December 20 to review several budgets including Toronto Police Service, Toronto Public Health, Toronto Public Libraries, and Accountability Offices (Ombudsman, Auditor General, Lobbyist Registry, Integrity Commissioner) plus internal services and other city programs. If they can wrap it up on December 20, that'll be it for the year. Otherwise, they'll continue on Wednesday, December 21.