The City of Toronto has held public consultations, hearings and deputations over the past several months. Digital Journal
reported in the summer of the 24-hour meeting where hundreds of residents provided their thoughts on the Core Service Review
. Last month, Digital Journal
reported on the Toronto Transit Commission holding a town hall meeting to receive feedback from transit riders.
On Wednesday, the budget committee, chaired by Councillor Mike Del Grande, gave hundreds of Torontonians the chance to deliver public deputations. Exactly 348 names were listed, but the budget chief said that it looked like that they would not go through the entire list either today or tomorrow.
Prior to the meeting, Del Grande explained that each deputant would be allowed three minutes and then one minute for each question asked by a city councillor. Furthermore, he noted that Wednesday and Thursday’s consultations would run until 9:30 p.m.
Each person had their opportunity to share their frustrations, suggestions and even accolades to the proposed 2012 operating and capital draft budget
that was released last month. The budget, which Mayor Rob Ford labelled as “smart,” includes a 2.5 percent property tax increase, 10-cent TTC fare hike, reductions in library hours, the closure of wading pools and the elimination of 2,300 City staff.
Wednesday’s meeting started off with Carol Wilding, Toronto Board of Trade President and CEO. Wilding stated that she was pleased that the mayor and council were finally facing up to the City’s fiscal reality. According to the Board of Trade CEO, the 2012 draft budget provides clear boundaries and ends past philosophies of deficit financing.
“We understand the proposed 2012 plan to be the start of a multi-year sustainable budget,” said Wilding. “For the first time in a decade, we have a proposed budget that turns the corner of past ways of thinking – in fact it represents a paradigm shift at city hall. Going forward, if the City is to provide a program or service; it must have ongoing and predictable revenue streams to pay for it. If it doesn’t have the money, it must make a trade off by ending an existing program or service.”
Wilding added: “Gone is the culture of provide now, pay later.” The Board of Trade leader did add her frustrations with transportation. She urged all three levels of government to find ways of funding the TTC.
The next speaker was Richard Silver, President of the Toronto Real Estate Board. In his address, Silver advocated for the abolishment of the land transfer tax. He cited a recent poll that suggests 65 percent support Ford’s commitment to repealing the tax, and a majority supporting a property tax increase instead.
Silver said that the tax “is not part of the solution to the City’s finances.” Furthermore, he called it an “unfair tax that forces people to pay more than their fair share.” Adding: “It’s a band-aid solution.”
During the question period, Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, asked if the public can better spend their property taxes than “putting it in the coffers of irresponsible government?” This prompted both laughter and sighs from the crowd.
Following a brief moment of silence by Del Grande, Ford asked if homeowners could stimulate the economy if they didn’t have to fork over $6,000 in taxes.
Throughout the morning’s meeting, there were several representatives from community groups and arts organizations. These individuals urged the City not to end their grants or force them to cut back because it would devastate the City.
Councillors Frances Nunziata and Ford asked some of these organizations if they could find efficiencies, such as lower the salaries of their workforce.
Ford asked how many people work at Social Planning of Toronto. John Campey, Executive Director, responded with 50. Nunziata, the chamber speaker, noted that they could cut salaries because majority of its $1.5 million budget goes towards its staff.
“Wouldn’t it make sense to cut salary than cut programs?” asked Nunziata. “Couldn’t 10 percent be from salary?”
Since many of the speakers pleaded to the committee not to eliminate their grants, Del Grande interjected and stated that if people want to talk the City’s service cuts then they have to come up with an alternative solution.
Please note: the morning’s meeting was live-tweeted, check out it out here