2017 City Budget: Budget Committee Review Gets Started

The Budget Committee started its review of the 2017 City preliminary budget on December 16. The meeting included a short presentation on Cluster A, the human services divisions, by City staff followed by Councillor questions of staff. Budgets reviewed included Toronto Paramedic Services, Court Services, Economic Development and Culture (including arts funding), Long-term Care Homes, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, Toronto Community Housing, Shelter, Support and Housing (which may continue to be reviewed at Monday's meeting), Social Development, Finance and Administration (which may continue to be reviewed at Monday's meeting), and City Planning (which will continue to be reviewed on Monday).


Photo credit: www.cafecredit.com 

Here are my notes from the December 16 Budget Committee meeting:

Economic Development & Culture

  • Toronto City Council made a commitment to achieve $25 per capita funding of arts and culture by 2017. The 2017 preliminary budget does not include the additional $2 million required to meet the commitment. The manager of EDC said there's also some additional funds missing to meet the per capita target related to budget reductions. He said, the City would need to add somewhere between $2.7 and $2.9 million to meet the target.
  • The budget includes a 2.6% administrative cut to the Toronto Arts Council which will affect TAC but not the total grant amount for artists and arts groups.
  • The Economic Development & Culture budget does not meet the 2.6% budget cut direction. If the division were to make that 2.6% cut, it would need to cut $3.5 million from arts funding. This cut is not recommended in the preliminary budget.
  • $1 in City funding for arts and culture generates $20 in ticket sales and other non-municipal funding sources.
  • Councillor Nunziata wants more arts funding for depressed areas like Weston and Eglinton.
  • The EDC manager said the City is doing a good job on arts funding in the inner suburbs through Local Arts Service Organizations, cultural hotspots, Toronto Arts Council funding programs and other programs.
  • Councillor Davis wants a report on funding for local economic development to address business areas with lots of vacant shops. She'd like to see more investment in this area.
  • Montreal invests over $70 per capita in arts and culture. Toronto's goal of $25 was pretty modest.

Long-term Care Homes

  • This budget includes cuts in hours for part-time workers.
  • Do we have money in the capital plan to address the long-term care needs of our aging population? Nope.
  • 5 out of 10 of the City's long-term care homes need to be redeveloped because of state of repair but the capital budget doesn't include the funds needed. Councillor Davis asked why not since it's a mandated service. The Chief Financial Officer referred to Council's practice of identifying areas for investment without generating the revenues to back it up.
  • Councillor Campbell asked about privatizing long-term care homes. Staff said there have been several studies showing that it would have a negative effect on residents.
  • Staff said one significant risk is that the private long-term care homes in the city will also have to redevelop because of repair issues but they will be "land locked" as is the city. Meaning they will not be able to rebuild on the existing site without demolition. Residents will have to be relocated affecting residents and the total beds available in the system.

Parks, Forestry & Recreation

  • The City has a Recreation Service Plan that outlines how it's going to improve community access to recreation. This year, it calls for an additional $5 million but that money is not in the budget. There's no money for a citywide youth leadership program, work to comply with accessibility legislation, or other things.
  • I noted in an earlier blog that the budget proposed a reduction of $449,800 for the operation of the new York Recreation Centre, wondering how that constitutes a service efficiency. At today's meeting, City staff said there was $3 million in the 2016 budget to operate the York Recreation Centre but it wasn't used because there was a delay in opening the centre. It's scheduled to be opened in January 2017. That money will be brought forward into the 2017 budget to fund 3,000 program hours at the centre. The $449,800 amount was meant to increase services at the centre in year 2 of its operation. Staff are recommending that those funds be considered in the 2018 budget. Some community members still have questions about the resourcing of the centre - what was planned and what's proposed in this budget.
  • Recreation user fees are going up 2.3%; introductory and subscriber programs are going up 10% plus the inflationary increase of 2.3%; extended care camp fees are also up well above inflation.
  • 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 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. Community advocates think the Welcome Policy isn't doing its job as well as it should to ensure community access to recreation. The underuse of the Welcome Policy may be more about how the policy works rather than the need in the community.
  • The Parks, Forestry and Recreation budget includes cuts to park maintenance and horticulture and the elimination of the Toronto Island Ropes Course. It also includes the reduction of 192 jobs. Staff say most of those jobs are currently vacant. Councillor Layton asked if they were gapped with the intention of cutting them in the 2017 budget. Staff said no.
  • A report on PFR user fees and the Welcome Policy will be coming forward to the Community Development and Recreation Committee in the new year.
  • Councillor Campbell asked how much revenue could be generated if the City didn't provide free programs at centres that have been deemed community centres where programs are free. Staff said the revenue is estimated at $15 million but caution that their estimates were not accurate in the past when Council ended free programs for adults in the centres. They didn't bring in that much money and participation fell by 40%. Same with indoor swimming programs. In the end, Council reversed the decision to provide programs for free.

Social Development, Finance and Administration

  • The preliminary budget recommends a funding freeze for the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP). CPIP funds nonprofit community services through community grants programs. Staff said the division had been providing inflationary increases to nonprofits for a number of years, and the funding freeze would put greater pressure on agencies.
  • The division did not meet its 2.6% cut. If they implemented the cut, staff say it would result in a $500,000 cut to the investment stream of the community grants program, a 16% cut. This would affect project funding for nonprofit organizations. A lot of the investment program grant recipients are small and grassroots community organizations. This cut is not recommended in the budget.

Shelter, Support and Housing Administration

  • Staff confirmed that shelter occupancy for women and for youth is at 100%. For women, it is projected at 99% in 2017. 
  • When asked if that means women fleeing violence would be turned away from full shelters, the division manager acknowledged that while the shelters would try to make a referral to another shelter, it was not necessarily successful. We know that violence against women shelters are always full, leaving women fleeing violence to try to find a space in a homeless shelter. It is appalling that we would not ensure access to shelter for women fleeing violence (a strategy for keeping property taxes below inflation), and the budget projects a 99% occupancy in the women's shelter system next year. Can't help but recall that the City budget was released on December 6, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
  • The men's shelter system remains over the 90% occupancy standard and will continue to in 2017.
  • There's over $1 million in staffing cuts in this budget. They were discussed in a closed session where members of the public were excluded because of the human resources implications of the cut. Staff did say that the cuts would likely result in longer delays for homeless youth to get help accessing employment and housing.
  • City staff are making plans for the closure and redevelopment of Seaton House which provides emergency shelter to 600 men. The plan is to open 2 permanent and 2 temporary shelters that will provide shelter to 400 men. In addition, they are looking at providing 200 housing allowances, providing supportive housing to 150 men through Habitat, and opening a long-term care home that would also provide housing to men displaced by the Seaton House closure. Staff talked about the need to fill the gap left by the closure which would not be just about finding alternatives for the 600 men who currently stay at Seaton House but to address the shelter capacity need. (I don't know about Seaton House, but in general every shelter bed is used by 3 different people over the course of a year.)
  • Staff commented that so many shelters have closed in recent years. The division is scrambling to establish new shelters. 
  • The budget includes a cut of almost $800,000 for the Adelaide Resource Centre for Women which is a City coordinated centre for homeless and vulnerable women where many community organizations provide services. They are talking about a new delivery model where the City would no longer coordinate services and leave it to a community organization, perhaps Fred Victor that is very involved in this work now. It's hard to say how cutting almost $800,000 can be done without affecting services.

Toronto Community Housing

  • The Tenant First report on social housing including TCHC comes out in the Spring. It will put forward an implementation plan for making changes at TCHC. 
  • Councillor Nunziata asked why TCHC wasn't moving on the sale of stand-alone tenant homes. The CEO said they had sold almost all of those slated for sale. He said the Board has provided no further direction on the sale of more tenant homes, however, the Tenant First report will likely address this question, in some way, regarding the sale of stand-alone homes. TCHC has 830 stand-alone homes. 
  • The My Choice rental pilot project is proceding through the IT approval process but its implementation is not funded.
  • TCHC projects a surplus of approximately $27 million, of which they are confident that they will have at least $20 million. Figures to be confirmed in the new year. The Board went against the advice of the CEO to take $19 million of the surplus to partially fill the budget operating shortfall. The CEO recommended any surplus should be used for capital, home repairs. The provincial and federal governments have failed to put in their portion of funding for the TCHC capital plan. TCHC and the City want them each to fund 1/3 of the $2.6 billion 10-year plan. The City is on track to funding its share but they are in trouble because that only takes them part of the way to addressing the problem.
  • TCHC has a surplus because of a one-time only credit for hydro relief. 




Next Up: Shortbread, eggnog, and Budget Committee continues its review of the 2017 preliminary budget on Monday, December 19 and Tuesday, December 20. If needed, they'll continue to Wednesday, December 21. You can drop by City Hall, Committee Room 1 or if you like to watch, check out their youtube channel. You can watch any of the video archives for City Council meetings, Budget Committee and a selection of other City Committee meetings. Good times.

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