Service cuts just 'scrape the surface,' Ford says

A report Monday asks Toronto city staff to consider millions in wide-ranging cuts to services including public housing, transit, snow clearing and libraries.
Eliminating paid duty officers at some construction sites is one of the recommendations in a city staff report released today. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says millions of dollars in proposed cuts to city services are just "scraping the surface" of what's needed.

report released Monday asks city hall staff to consider about $100 million worth of wide-ranging cuts — to public housing, transit, zoos, snow clearing, libraries and museums, among other things. 

City manager Joe Pennachetti's list of proposed cuts follows a core review of services by consultant KPMG in July. The city is trying to pare down a $774 million budget shortfall.

But an emotional debate is already shaping up over the services that would be lost or diminished.

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said the report recommending cuts contains "everybody's worst nightmare" and he accused Ford of lying during his campaign for the mayor's job.

"He lied to us," De Baeremaeker said. "The mayor said very clearly … 'I can find the money. Vote for me and I will find the money. I know where it's hidden. I know where the gravy is. There will be no cuts.'

"This document just has hundreds and hundreds of cuts."

Ford, who says the proposals would not amount to cuts — "I call it efficiencies" — was unperturbed by the criticism.

"He can call me whatever he wants. What's his solution?"

Councillors to consider report

The report recommends council and the appropriate committees, agencies, boards and commissions consider cuts and changes in a number of areas, including:

  • Zoos: Try to sell zoos and farms to the private sector or close them.
  • Affordable housing: Limit any new developments to those funded by the provincial and federal levels of government.
  • Museums: Close those with "the least attendance and revenues compared to costs."
  • Snow clearing: Change the service standard in parks from six centimetres to eight.  Eliminate the windrow snow-clearing program. Windrows are the driveway-blocking piles of snow created by passing plows.
  • Wheel-Trans: Develop "individual plans for riders to use conventional services for their needs, relying less on Wheel-Trans."
  • Transit: Reduce or eliminate the TTC's after-hours Blue Night service or make it a premium service with a fare increase.
  • Libraries: Consider closing branches and/or reducing operating hours.
  • Child care: Consider transferring the city-operated child care centres to community or private operators. Reduce the number of subsidized spaces through attrition.
  • Policing: Eliminate the use of paid duty officers at construction sites "where possible."
  • Garbage: Scrap the four free garbage tag program and getting rid of the community environmental days.

The report says the Toronto Transit Commission should review service improvements, and it recommends the Fire Department and EMS look at ways to make their operations more efficient.

The report says proposed cuts and reductions could save up to $100 million in 2012 and $200 to $300 million between 2012 and 2014.

A total of $132 million will be saved in capital costs over the city's 10-year plan, according to the report.

Cuts recommended in the report must be approved by the city’s executive committee before heading to council at the end of the month.

The report says many of the services targeted for cuts are beyond so-called "core services" cities traditionally provide.

"Many of these services have been added over the years to respond to emerging community needs," the report reads.

"Given the city’s financial pressures, decisions need to be made about which services go beyond what municipal governments generally provide, and could be eliminated or divested as they are no longer affordable or required."

'We have no choice,' budget chief says

Mike Del Grande, the city's budget chief, said cuts are painful but necessary to bring the city's finances in line.

"We’re not doing this process because we’ve got nothing better to do," he told CBC News.

"It’s not like we woke up one day and said 'how can we cause a lot of problems with this?' It’s because we have no choice, we have to do something and we have to balance the budget. We’re taking a pro-active approach. … My own personal position has been to try and share the pain."

Reducing the number of city workers was another aspect of Ford's plan to address the city's budget problems. In August, city workers were offered buyouts.

On Monday, city manager Pennachetti said more than 1,100 of Toronto's 17,000 city workers have applied for buyout packages. Those buyout applications must be approved by senior staff.

With files from The Canadian Press