It's been a whirlwind of activity since the City of Toronto budget launch in January! There are two days left until the final budget vote at City Council on Thursday, March 7. Find out the latest in this budget watch post.
A quick update on the budget process
- The Budget Committee reviewed the preliminary 2019 City budget, heard from about 170 members of the public at deputations across the city, and made its recommendations (details below).
- The Mayor's Executive Committee met on Monday for its one-day review of the budget. The committee also made its recommendations (details below).
- Social Planning Toronto and our community partners held City budget forums in Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, and co-hosted deputation trainings for members of the public. Shortly after the budget launch, we also provided our hot-off-the-press budget analysis at a City Budget 101 forum with health professionals at the Centre for Urban Health Solutions.
- We were glad to join with passionate and engaged community groups and residents at budget deputations to call for a better budget that addresses the serious challenges facing our city and supports a more inclusive and livable city for all.
- Several City Councillors held budget town halls, bringing together their constituents to discuss the budget and priorities for their communities.
- Last week, Social Planning Toronto released "A City Left Behind: Poverty Reduction, Election Promises, and the 2019 Budget", a deep dive into the City budget that assesses how City Council is doing so far in making good on its election promises on poverty - the news isn't good (details below - read the report here)
- Our opinion piece, "Toronto needs to pick up the pace to make good on prosperity promises", was published on toronto.com (read it here).
- Also last week, Ryerson University Senior Research Fellow Frank Clayton released new analysis on the City of Toronto's super-low property taxes and the choice Council has available to it to raise rates to address the city's crumbling infrastructure (read the report here).
- Next up: Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam hosts her "Gender & Equity Responsive Budgeting Town Hall" on Wednesday, March 6 at 6 p.m. at Regent Park Community Centre, Banquet Hall, 402 Shuter Street (corner of Sackville St.). Social Planning Toronto is proud to participate as a community partner in this event. Register here.
- And lastly, Toronto City Council meets on Thursday, March 7 at City Hall, 100 Queen Street West, in Council Chambers for the final budget review and vote. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. We are encouraging people to come out to the meeting to show your support for a better budget for a better TO! Can't make it? Watch live on youtube here.
Where's the budget at?
Our budget overview provides highlights of the budget following the January 28 launch (read it here).
There have been a few good and not-so-good changes to the budget since last we met.
Budget Committee - changes
- Good news! As shown in the table below, the Budget Committee voted to increase funding by a total of $2,036,300 for arts and culture programs, installation of menstrual hygiene product dispensers in shelters, respite sites and selected community centres, Scarborough Works Youth Employment Plan, the Muslim Fellowship Program, expansion of the Student Nutrition Program in independent schools, and support for the governance role of the Toronto Police Services Board.
- Not-so-good news ... As shown in the table below, the funds used to pay for those new and enhanced programs were taken from funding increases requested by three out of four of the City's Accountability Offices, as well as, a decrease in funds intended for the capital budget. This motion has the effect of freezing the budgets of the Integrity Commissioner's Office, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Office of the Lobbyist Registrar, denying the requests of these offices for additional funds to carry out their work. The Auditor General's budget was not affected by this motion. Read more about the Accountability Offices below.
- About the Accountability Officers: According to the City website, the City's four Accountability Officers "help ensure your local government remains open and transparent". The Integrity Commissioner "oversees the conduct and ethical behaviour of City Councillors and Members of local boards". Ombudsman Toronto "listens to and investigates complaints and concerns about City administration and unfairness in the delivery of City services". The Lobbyist Registrar "ensures the public disclosure of lobbying activities and oversees the regulation of lobbyists' conduct". The Auditor General "assists City Council in holding itself accountable to taxpayers of the City of Toronto. This includes reviews of City services and how public funds are used."
- The motion freezes the Integrity Commissioner's budget, denying this office's request for an additional $190,000 for "enhanced legal and investigative services...for external support and expertise to enable the office to respond to high volumes, complex cases and new statutory time limits." The budget documents indicate that without these funds "the ability of the Office of the Integrity Commissioner to fulfill its statutory mandate will be compromised. The enhancement request is a modest, prudent measure to enable the Office to maintain current advice service levels and improve complaint service levels to bring them in line with statutory time limits."
- The motion also freezes the Ombudsman's budget, denying this office's request for an additional $167,200 for one permanent Investigator position and one permanent Complaints Analyst position. The Ombudsman's Office budget notes indicate: "This staff increase is essential for Ombudsman Toronto to keep up with increased complaints volume and complexity and to conduct "proactive ombudsmanship" by providing consultation to City staff on the requirements of administrative fairness." The budget documents also note that these funds will allow the office to maintain service levels by responding to the increase demand for its services.
- The motion also freezes the Lobbyist Registrar's budget, denying this office's request for an additional $255,100 "to meet statutory Education & Outreach requirements by adding 1.0 permanent Lobbyist Registry & Stakeholder Outreach position" and "to meet statutory Investigation & Legal requirements by adding 1.0 permanent Junior Counsel position and increase to the investigative and legal expenses budgets." The budget documents note: Current Service levels are being challenged by the following factors: Upgrades in technology platform supporting the Registry require permanent dedication of resources; Under-resourcing within each of the two units: Inquiries and Investigations Unit (Investigations Unit) and Lobbyist Registry Unit (Registry Unit); New legislative amendments broadening enforcement powers; and Exponential increases in Registry activity since it was established notwithstanding that staff complement has not changed from the approved FTE of 8.3 in 2009. The enhancements requested are required to ensure that service continues in an accurate, timely and efficient manner. The sustainment of current and future service levels is at risk."
- Notably, Councillors Layton and Carroll voted for the new and enhanced programs and services but against drawing the funds from these sources. However, the motion did pass.
Executive Committee - changes
- The Executive Committee passed a motion to allocate $102,600 "to provide the 76 City-funded shelters, drop-ins and respite centres with funding to purchase menstrual products for their clients and program users". An important victory for the Period Purse campaign! The funding was covered by reducing the amount intended for the capital budget.
"A City Left Behind: Poverty Reduction, Election Promises, and the 2019 Budget" - Progress Assessment: Year 1 of 4
About Social Planning Toronto's new report:
In the lead up to the 2018 City of Toronto municipal election, Social Planning Toronto, Commitment TO Community, and Faith in the City asked candidates for Mayor and City Council to sign the “Prosperity Pledge”, an election promise to follow through on actions to advance the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy during the 2018-2022 term of Council. The Pledge included specific, measurable commitments to be met by 2022, with a focus on housing and homelessness, public transit, child care, and recreation.
A total of 73% of the members of the new Council, including Mayor Tory, signed the Pledge. The 2019 City budget offers the first opportunity for Toronto City Council to begin to make good on its election promises to act on poverty.
"A City Left Behind: Poverty Reduction, Election Promises, and the 2019 Budget" documents Toronto City Council’s progress to date on the Prosperity Pledge, and the news isn’t good. Social Planning Toronto’s analysis of the preliminary 2019 City budget suggests that, if Toronto City Council maintains its current pace of action, it is unlikely to deliver on six of the seven specific actions it committed to by 2022.
The good news is the 2019 City budget process is not over. Toronto City Council holds the final vote on the budget at its March 7 meeting. Toronto City Council have an opportunity to get this budget back on track. There’s still time for our elected representatives to make real change for the hundreds of thousands of Toronto residents struggling in our city.
Read the executive summary and full report here
Read the Toronto Star article here
Final Push for a Better Budget!
There's still time to make changes in this budget to create a better city for all. Toronto City Council holds the final budget vote on Thursday, March 7. Between now and then, please contact your City Councillor to ask her/him to support motions on Thursday to improve and expand services in the areas of poverty reduction, including public transit, youth services, child care, recreation, housing and more. Call 311 to find out the name and contact info for your City Councillor! And join us on Thursday at City Hall in Council Chambers for the final budget vote. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. Drop by for a while.