The Parks, Forestry and Recreation preliminary budget includes recreation user fee increases, service cuts and threats of further cuts that, if implemented, would deeply damage community access to recreation across the city.
Photo credit: Hepingting
The 2017 preliminary budget proposes to reduce staffing in Parks, Forestry and Recreation by 192.5 full-time equivalent positions, a 4.2% decrease compared to the 2016 budget. 53.7 of these position reductions are related to the conclusion of one-time projects. The budget documents also note that 111.3 of the position reductions result in a budget reduction of $4.140 million. This reduction is related to "moving to position-based budgeting that aligned the salary and benefit costs that have been incurred historically. As this is an alignment of actual staff hours used and service delivery requirements, this adjustment does not result in any decrease in recreation worker hours or service levels."
Some groups have claimed or questioned that this is a round-about way to make service cuts by not hiring the full complement of workers budgeted in a given year, and then using this as a rationale to reduce the budget and staffing complement in the following year. A multi-year analysis would be helpful to take a closer look at this issue.
The preliminary budget includes recreation user fee increases:
- A 2.3% inflationary increase across almost all recreation user fees
- A $1 per hour increase for extended care fees to camps; together with the inflationary increase, this brings the extended care camp fees from $2.92 per hour to $4.00 per hour. According to the budget documents, "The camp extended care program is offered to participants who are registered at a City camp program. The extended camp program is supervised and is generally available between 8am to 9am and for after camp between 4pm and 5pm." In 2015, there were approximately 20,000 paid registrants for camp extended care.
- For introductory instruction and subscriber programs, the user fee increase proposed is an additional 10% beyond the 2.3% inflationary increase. In 2015, there were approximately 85,000 paid registrants in these types of programs. According to the budget documents, "Introductory instructional programs are classes where participants learn basic skills and gain exposure to a recreational skill or receive instruction for a general type of program. Examples are introductory gymnastics, sports, dance and arts and craft programs. Subscriber programs are leisure and wellness opportunities and experiences in a supervised, supported and structured program with group members who share a leisure interest. Examples are homework clubs, chess and craft clubs, supervised play and family gym time. Programs within these categories are generally 9 or 12 weeks in length."
- There is also an increase to the Silver Birch boathouse permit which provides storage for 140 paddleboards, canoes and kayaks. The budget proposes to increase the annual storage fee from $106.61 to $150, putting rates in line with private facility fees.
The preliminary budget also includes service cuts:
- Closing the Toronto Island Ropes Course ($56,800 gross; $50,400 net) - the budget notes say it has low usage and requires a capital investment of $50,000; this closure is proposed in the 2017 budget to meet the 2.6% budget cut
- Reverse Parks Plan - Enhanced Maintenance ($217,100 gross and net) - the 2016 budget provided funding for additional evening and weekend park monitoring and maintenance in summer months; the 2017 budget proposes to reverse this service to meet the 2.6% budget cut
- Reverse Parks Plan - Horticulture ($422,600 gross and net) - the 2016 budget provided funding for "a regular rejuvenation cycle for 22 gardens, deliver enhanced maintenance to 60 additional gardens annually"; the 2017 budget proposes to reverse this service to meet the 2.6% budget cut
- The Welcome Policy provides subsidies for low income residents to access recreation programs. A $556,000 inflationary increase is needed to maintain Welcome Policy funding at 2016 levels. However, this funding is not included in the 2017 preliminary budget. At the same time, recreation user fees are going up - some at a rate much higher than inflation. If the City doesn't include the inflationary increase for the Welcome Policy, fewer low income people will be able to access registered recreation programs. This increase is not included in the preliminary budget in order to meet the 2.6% cut. (City staff report that they are increasing the Welcome Policy entitlement by 2.3% increase. That means the amount people are entitled to have covered will go up by 2.3%. Several year fees are going up more than 2.3%. City staff say they have adjusted the 2017 Welcome Policy total budget based on this year's usage and what they think they will need for next year. According to staff, the Welcome Policy budget was $9.2 million in 2013; the City used $8.3 million in 2015; they project they will use $8.4 million in 2016, and have included $8.9 million for the 2017 budget. Staff report that over the last five years, they have not reached capacity on the Welcome Policy, and have not turned anyone away due to lack of funds.)
Gross = total cost; net = City of Toronto cost; where it says "gross and net" that means the total amount and the amount the City of Toronto would pay are the same; why is gross more than net sometimes? in this post, it's because the division also charges user fees, bringing in revenues to offset the full cost of the program.
The preliminary budget also includes reductions that are described as service efficiencies. For example, the new York Recreation Centre is scheduled to open in January 2017. The Parks, Forestry and Recreation preliminary budget proposes reducing funding for the York Recreation Centre by $449,800 and decreasing the staff complement by 12.1 full-time equivalent positions. It's unclear how this is a service efficiency and not a cut to the original budget intended to fund operations in this new recreation centre. (Update: City staff explained that the 2016 City budget included $3 million to operate the York Recreation Centre but was not used because there was a delay in opening the centre. The centre is scheduled to open in January 2017 and the $3 million has been brought forward to the 2017 budget to cover operating costs which will fund 3,000 program hours. The $449,800 amount was originally proposed for year 2 of the York Recreation Centre to ramp up operations. Staff propose that this amount be considered in the 2018 budget when York Recreation Centre will be in its second year of operation. There are still questions from the community about what was originally planned for in year 1 for the York Recreation Centre and what will now be in place in 2017.)
Also described as a service efficiency, the preliminary budget proposes relocating aquatic programs currently offered in 3 TDSB schools at other nearby facilities. The City's agreement with the TDSB for the use of these 3 pools is set to expire shortly. The plan is to not renew and instead accommodate the approximately 27,000 leisure and instructional participant visits at nearby city-owned or -operated pools through "existing and expanded program offerings". The pools where service would no longer be provided are S.H. Armstrong Community Centre (ward 32), Centennial Recreation Centre - Etobicoke (ward 12), and Don Mills CI (ward 34). Neighbouring aquatic programs are listed as alternatives to these locations. Sounds more like a cut than an efficiency. (Staff say these pools have low usage and their are pools nearby, including the new York Recreation Centre.)
The preliminary budget also proposes deferring "operating impacts of capital". The budget document says "A total of $0.627 million net in expected operating costs for new parks, recreation facilities and the maintenance of new trails has been deferred to 2018. The Program will accommodate any partial year costs within the existing 2016 Council Approved Budget." Some capital projects have been delayed but for those that come online in 2017, operating costs will be covered with existing resources, stretching limited resources further to cover existing parks, recreation facilities and trails, and to cover any new ones that open in 2017. (Also I'm not sure why it says 2016 approved budget. I think they mean 2017.)
The preliminary budget includes some new and enhanced programs and services. These programs and services are funded entirely by user fees or other non-municipal revenue sources. These include tennis pilot permit project, growing Toronto's tree canopy - private lands, advancement of tree maintenance, and community recreation program development. Tennis permit fees range from $7-$20 per hour depending on the group type permitting the courts.
The preliminary budget also does not include funding to open pools for extended hours on heat alert days which is often the way people cool off when they don't have A/C. It also doesn't include funding for ravines and watercourse service enhancement, planned work within the City's Parks Plan, or paying for support specialists that deal with the purchase of materials and procurement of services related to capital projects (like the development of new recreation facilities, parks or trails).
The City has a Recreation Service Plan which requires new investment to introduce new programs and improve or expand existing ones. The preliminary budget points out that a lot of these initiatives in future years (2017-2020) are not funded. Some examples of this work include youth leadership programming, compliance with disability legislation, community development work, initiatives to achieve quality standards in all age groups, communications and marketing, and actions to achieve consistent maintenance standards.
And that's not all! The preliminary budget also identifies $8,994,500 (gross; $7,337,600 net) in service cut options that the Mayor and City Council could make to help fill the City's $91 million overall budget shortfall. These cuts are not included in the budget but brought forward for consideration by the Budget Committee. It's quite terrible. Here they are:
- $470,800 (gross + net) from closure of 36 wading pools - the City has 105 wading pools; if implemented, 36 would be closed, resulting in a reduction of 12,300 program hours and 72,000 visits annually
- $790,100 (gross; $722,400 net) from closure of 12 stand-alone outdoor pools - the City operates 58 outdoor pools; if implemented 12 would be closed, resulting in a reduction of more than 6,300 program/service hours with a combined total of 154,000 visits
- $4,276,900 (gross + net) from reduction of turf maintenance flying crews - Turf crews do "spring clean-up, litter picking, grass cutting and trimming, park repairs, painting of tables and benches, sport court, tennis court and bocce facility maintenance, installation and maintenance of signage, removal of dumped materials in parks, sport field maintenance, sweeping and blowing of hard debris from hard surfaces and fall clean up". If implemented, this cut would result in a 33% reduction in park maintenance frequency having a noticeable impact on our parks - grass, weeds, litter, conditions of park equipment.
- $1,476,800 (gross; $932,600 net) from discontinuing service at 10 Toronto District School Board indoor pools - the City has an exclusive agreement with TDSB for the use of 29 indoor pools; if implemented, this cut would close 10 of those pools, reducing program hours by 19,562 from 60,000 to 40,438 and reducing pool visits by 150,854 from 500,000 to 349,146
- $1,979,900 (gross; $934,900 net) from closure of 16 TDSB exclusive use and stand-alone facilities - if implemented, this cut would result in the discontinuing of recreation programs and services at 9 TDSB locations and 7 stand-alone City recreation facilities; the City's stand-alone facilities are smaller recreation facilities. This cut would result in the loss of 42,516 program hours and 252,571 visits.
Gross vs. net? see explanation above
If these service cut options were implemented, it would result in the loss of 125.2 full-time equivalent positions. The budget documents do not identify the specific pools or recreation facilities that would be closed or affected. However, it seems that these locations have already been selected.
If implemented, those service cuts would harm communities, particularly the target groups served by Parks, Forestry and Recreation, namely children and youth, seniors, newcomers and people living in poverty. We'll learn more about the Parks, Forestry and Recreation budget and other community and human service budgets on Friday, December 16 at the Budget Committee meeting.
City Councillor Budget Town Halls
Is your City Councillor holding a City budget town hall for residents? Every year, we contact Councillors to ask if they will be hosting a town hall for residents to discuss the City budget. Here's the latest information from our canvass.
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada
Ok, that's not the current-day Toronto City Council. That pic's from Toronto City Council's inaugural meeting on January 9, 1911.
Councillors who have confirmed that they will be holding a budget town hall:
- Wards 13 & 14 Councillors Sarah Doucette and Gord Perks will be co-hosting a budget town hall on January 26 from 7-9 p.m. at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton School, 1515 Bloor Street West, 3rd Floor, staff room
- Ward 18 Ana Bailão - details to be announced
- Ward 22 Josh Matlow - details to be announced
- Ward 26 Jon Burnside - details to be announced
- Ward 27 Kristyn Wong-Tam - January 19 at 6:30 p.m. at 519 Church Street Community Centre
- Ward 28 Pam McConnell - details to be announced
- Ward 33 Shelley Carroll - January 19 from 6-8 p.m. at Fairview Library, 35 Fairview Mall Drive
- Ward 34 Denzil Minnan-Wong - details to be announced
- Ward 37 Michael Thompson - first out of the gate! Held his on December 12
- Ward 41 Chin Lee - January 10 & 17 at Agincourt Recreation Centre, 31 Glen Watford Drive
Councillors who will not be holding a budget town hall:
- Ward 3 Stephen Holyday
- Ward 4 John Campbell - the Councillor encourages residents to attend the public consultations in January. The Budget Committee public hearings at the Etobicoke Civic Centre take place on January 5 from 3-5 p.m. and 6 p.m. onward
- Ward 11 Frances Nunziata - the Councillor encourages residents to attend the Budget Committee public hearings at York Civic Centre on January 10 from 3-5 p.m. and 6 p.m. onward
- Ward 15 Josh Colle
- Ward 25 Jaye Robinson
- Ward 31 Janet Davis: the Councillor encourages residents to attend the Budget Committee public hearings at East York Civic Centre on January 9 from 3-5 p.m. and 6 p.m. onward
- Ward 32 Mary-Margaret McMahon
- Ward 38 Glenn De Baeremaeker
Ward 42 currently has no City Councillor.
Don't see your City Councillor on the list? Ask them to hold a budget town hall! Call 311 or check here for contact info.
We'll keep you posted as new information is made available.
For budget analysis on:
More on the way ... public libraries, public health, child care, employment and social services, long-term care homes, and more.
Plus Budget Committee starts its review on Friday, December 16 at 9 a.m. at City Hall in Committee Room 1. Drop by, or if you like to watch, check out the City of Toronto's youtube channel on Friday.