City Budget Watch 2018: Budget Fails to Make Good on Council Promises

BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Launched on Thursday, November 30, the 2018 preliminary City of Toronto budget fails to make good on several Toronto City Council commitments - some made as recently as the day prior to the budget launch. It largely freezes funding for City services, includes a list of budget reductions described as service efficiencies (we'll have a closer look at this list in the days to come), and leaves out funding for several key commitments that have been made by Council.

Toronto City Council has adopted several action plans and strategies in recent years to improve the quality of life of Toronto residents, address serious service deficiencies, and promote equity and inclusion in the city. Much of this work is not funded in the 2018 preliminary budget.

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The City's unfunded list includes $41 million in programs and services including:

  • the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism
  • a new Indigenous Office at City Hall
  • the City's Poverty Reduction Strategy which was unanimously passed by City Council in 2015
  • an expansion of recreation programs to address the lengthy recreation program waitlist (198,236 waitlist spaces in 2016, an increase of 74% over the past three years)
  • temporary and permanent emergency shelter beds in response to the ongoing crisis in the shelter system (the City has a plan for some expansion of the shelter system but even those commitments have been very slow coming while the shelter system is bursting at the seams; the 2018 budget includes no new funds to ramp up this critical work; most recently, the Community Development and Recreation Committee passed motions to add 1,000 new shelter beds, request that the Mayor declare an emergency in the shelter system, and have temporary shelter opened up by the end of the year to ensure that the shelter system meet the City standard of a 90% occupancy rate - a service level that the City has never achieved since the 90% standard was re-committed to in 2013; none of these initiatives are funded) 
  • expansion of child care spaces and subsidies (even though most of this money has been provided by the provincial government; for some odd reason, it is not actually committed to in the 2018 budget)
  • four new community grants projects delivered by nonprofits (if funded, these projects would be supported through the City's Community Services Partnership program; these projects would support Black youth leadership, fund the development of a Social Development Plan and the redevelopment of Alexandra Park as part of the Downtown West Study, support an Indigenous-led organization to build capacity among Indigenous organizations to respond to service needs and engage communities, and support the engagement of residents and build resident leadership as part of the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020)(note: the preliminary budget INCLUDES funds for an inflationary increase for nonprofits receiving community grants)
  • planned expansion of the Toronto Urban Health Fund which supports HIV prevention, harm reduction and child and youth resiliency programs provided by nonprofit organizations
  • planned expansion of arts and culture funding (Council committed to a multi-year expansion plan for arts and culture)
  • planned expansion of the student nutrition program; also no funds to cover the rising cost of food in existing student nutrition programs (City Council committed to a 5-year expansion of the student nutrition program, then delayed the expansion, turning it into a 6-year expansion plan; 2018 is the final year of the plan; like previous years, the funds are not included in the preliminary budget)
  • Tenants First, TCHC housing improvements (more details on TCHC to come)
  • Support for AODA compliance - under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the City is required to address accessibility issues in City service provision for people with disabilities
  • the Transit Fair Pass Program to introduce reduced public transit fares for low income residents; the program was adopted by City Council in 2016 and is supposed to start up in March 2018 to provide reduced fares for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients who don't currently receive transportation support
  • Two-hour public transit transfers recently announced by the Mayor
  • TransformTO, the City's climate change plan  

Toronto City Council voted to support all of these initiatives but the proposed budget doesn't fund them. 

So here's the thing. There's about $9 million in funds that has not been allocated in the budget. These are funds that can be used to pay for some of these programs and services. During a press conference following the budget launch, Budget Chief Gary Crawford identified some unfunded programs that he and the Mayor plan to support including child care investment, the two-hour TTC transfer, poverty reduction initiatives, TransformTO climate change initiatives, and probably student nutrition expansion. Conveniently, the $9 million left on the table is about the right amount to cover the City's costs for these initiatives. 

If the Mayor and Budget Chief already know how they plan to use these "unallocated" funds, why not be transparent and include them in the preliminary budget to begin with? Past administrations have launched balanced budgets that clearly indicated their priorities for investment (or lack thereof). It's disingenuous to put out a budget that holds back funds when the plans for their use appear to already have been decided.     

City finance staff presented an overview of the preliminary operating and capital budget which you can find here. As of the circulation of this blog post, the City's budget notes (i.e. analyst notes) had not been made public yet. The budget notes provide detailed breakdowns about the City budget for each City division, agency, board and commission. Check for them and all City budget documents here. They should be out shortly. 

COMMUNITY VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF THE CITY

Over the past 7 months, the Commitment TO Community Campaign hosted 40 community events with hundreds of residents from across Toronto to ask them about their vision for the future of the city. It is an inspiring vision that was shared with members of the Mayor's Executive Committee in the lead up to the budget launch.

Here's a quick glimpse of the vision:

"The message from the hundreds of residents that we spoke to is clear: many people are struggling. Residents from across the city share similar concerns. People value the communities they live in and care about their neighbourhoods; however, year after year they see cuts that strain their communities and the nickel and diming that make the things that support their communities more and more threadbare. And they are worried about the future.

They see growing problems with affordable housing, transit, employment, child care, and the environment. People are not seeing on the ground improvements to their communities and in their lives.

People are counting on City Hall to address these issues, but they are not seeing things turn around. There is a need for Mayor and Council to restore our confidence and regain the trust of Toronto residents; to keep their promises by implementing the many strategies and action plans they have adopted which aim to reduce poverty and increase access to services and supports like housing, transit, and child care.

The residents of Toronto rely on City services and programs to make life better for themselves and for others around them. According to City staff, Mayor and Council needs to invest $66 million to fully implement the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy – and related strategies - in the 2018 City Budget. This is needed in order to merely keep up with the commitments City Hall has already made to improve access to affordable housing, reliable and affordable transit, affordable child care, affordable recreation programs, and other key services.

Council unanimously adopted the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, and also voted overwhelmingly to adopt action plans to improve access to transit, housing, child care, recreation and other services. Communities are eager to see Council support neighbourhoods across Toronto by delivering on these promised actions by fully funding these City strategies in 2018.

We know from the City’s TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy report, that poverty disproportionately affects Indigenous populations, people of colour, women, newcomers, and persons with disabilities. However, all residents of Toronto will benefit from the City fully funding their Poverty Reduction Strategy. 

Key themes provided by residents who formally documented their suggestions from these community events included:

1. Investing in more affordable housing - Residents across the city widely agreed on the need for more affordable housing in Toronto.

2. Increasing the number of homeless shelters in the city - Toronto residents said the city needs more homeless shelters. The high levels of poverty in the city were also discussed as a contributing factor for many people to not have adequate shelter. Residents hope the City will do more to help those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

3. Increasing child care spaces - We’re concerned about the lack of child care spaces across the city, and hope that the City will invest in more child care spaces so parents can return to work.

4. Lowering TTC costs - People across the city agree that TTC fares are too high. Many people reported that TTC fares need to be fair and subsidies for transit should be provided for those from low-income households, children, and seniors.

5. Increasing employment opportunities - People said it was hard to get decent jobs in Toronto. There is a need for the City to invest in more employment opportunities, particularly jobs with benefits and paid sick and vacation days."

The preliminary City budget, as it stands, fails on all counts to deliver on the community's vision for Toronto.

Read Voices of Toronto Speak Up: A Shared Vision of the 2018 City of Toronto Budget here.

TAKE ACTION

Fortunately, the budget is not a done deal until Toronto City Council votes on it in February. There are lots of opportunities to get involved, learn more and have your say on the City budget. From years of civic engagement work on the City budget, we know that when residents come together and get active they can make a real difference. 

Here's how you can get involved and stay informed:

  • If you aren't already receiving City Budget Watch in your email inbox, subscribe here.
  • Come out to one of our five City Budget forums hosted by Social Planning Toronto and partner organizations including LAMP Community Health Centre, Women's Habitat, Stonegate Community Health Centre, Friends of Flemingdon Park, Flemingdon-Thorncliffe Inter-agency Network, YWCA Toronto, Rexdale Neighbourhood Improvement Area, North Etobicoke Residents Council and Scarborough Civic Action Network.
  • Budget Forum Dates: December 9 in South Etobicoke, December 11 in Thorncliffe, December 13 downtown, December 13 in Rexdale, and December 18 in Dorset Park. Check here for all of the details!
  • Attend your City Councillor's Budget Town Hall. We'll post details about these events as they become public. Not all City Councillors host town halls so you may want to encourage yours to have one! Click here or call 311 to find out your Councillor's name and contact info.
  • Sign up to speak at a Budget Committee meeting. These public hearings are called deputations. Anyone can come and share their opinion about the budget. You usually get 3 minutes to speak, sometimes you might get up to 5 minutes. These meetings take place from January 8-10 at the following locations: January 8 at the Etobicoke Civic Centre and Scarborough Civic Centre from 3-6 p.m., January 9 at the North York Civic Centre and York Civic Centre from 3-6 p.m., and January 10 at the East York Civic Centre from 3-6 p.m. and Toronto City Hall from 9:30-6 p.m. Deputations take place in the Council Chambers at the Civic Centres and in Committee Room 1 on the second floor at Toronto City Hall. Anyone can attend these public hearings whether you plan to speak or not. To register to speak, contact the Budget Committee clerk at buc@toronto.ca or 416-392-4666. Want some help or have questions about giving a deputation? Contact Susan Kwong from the Commitment to Community Campaign at skwong@socialplanningtoronto.org or call 416-351-0095 x212.
  • Join Commitment to Community. Commitment TO Community (C2C) is a city-wide coalition of residents, faith communities, non-profit groups, and community organizations working together to support actions that reduce poverty and increase equity to make Toronto a better city to live in. Contact Susan Kwong at skwong@socialplanningtoronto.org or call 416-351-0095 x212. 

THE BUDGET PROCESS

  • Budget Committee meets to review the budget on December 12, 14, 15 & 18. The Committee meets at City Hall in Committee Room 1 on the second floor starting at 9:30 a.m. Anyone can attend committee and council meetings. You can watch on the Toronto City Council youtube channel too.
  • Budget Committee splits up into two subcommittees to hear from members of the public on January 8, 9 & 10 at six different locations. This is your chance to have your say. See above for all the details.
  • The TTC board, Toronto Public Library board, Toronto Police Services board and Toronto Public Health board also meet and make decisions about their respective budgets throughout the process as well. These bodies report back to the Budget Committee. Toronto City Council has final say on the funds allocated to these budgets. 
  • Budget Committee meets on January 12 & 23 for budget wrap-up and final wrap-up starting at 9:30 a.m. These meetings are held in Committee Room 1 at City Hall. This is when the committee makes its recommendations for the 2018 City budget. Then its work is done, and the budget gets sent over to the Mayor's Executive Committee for review. 
  • The Mayor's Executive Committee meets on February 6 to review the budget and make their own recommendations. This meeting also takes place in Committee Room 1 starting at 9:30 a.m.
  • Finally, Toronto City Council meets on February 12 & 13 to review and vote on the final budget. The budget isn't final until Toronto City Council votes. These meetings take place at City Hall in Council Chambers starting at 9:30 a.m. Anyone can attend. 

Check the budget schedule here for details.

NEXT UP

Stay tuned in the week ahead for further budget analysis as more details become available.

In the meantime, check out the latest budget analysis from Sheila Block, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Toronto out of revenue Hail Mary Passes: time for a new playbook 

Also sign up for this interesting budget-related event: Building a Better Budget Process in Toronto, December 19, hosted by the Institute for Municipal Finance and Governance.

And then check out City of Toronto City Manager Peter Wallace's Annual Address for some straight-to-the-point analysis on the City finances. Edward Keenan captures the event well in his Toronto Star column here

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