Toronto mayor's austerity call unpopular

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's edict that all city departments cut their 2011 budgets by five per cent doesn't appear to be working.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's edict that all city departments cut their 2011 budgets by five per cent doesn't appear to be working.

The annual budget procees begins on Monday, and a number of departments say they need more money — not less — in the coming year. 

On Wednesday, police Chief Bill Blair said he couldn't accommodate the cut — and asked the police services board to increase the force's budget by a further three per cent.

On Thursday night, the Toronto Public Library Board voted in favour of a 2.6 per cent budget increase.

It also voted to keep the downtown Urban Affairs library open, in spite of speculation that it would recommend its closure. The board also voted to reduce its library collections budget.

Those votes followed a decision earlier Thursday by Toronto Public Health and the Board of Health to also ask for an increase of 1.5 per cent.

Bedbugs a pressing issue

Most of the increase is needed for a new program to combat bedbugs. Toronto Public Health statistics show the number of cases in the city has skyrocketed from about 190 cases five years ago to almost 10 times that number.

Board member Paula Fletcher says the province is willing to spend $1.5 million to help Toronto fight the infestation, but to get that money, the city has to chip in $500,000.

The board unanimously supported Fletcher's motion to shell out the city's share of the program.

"I have heard the mayor talk about bedbugs a lot, and help get them under control," said Fletcher, "and I think this is an opportunity that should not go by." 

About 80 per cent of the department's budget comes from the province and most board members say it doesn't make sense to cut programs for which the city only pays a small portion.

Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, says cuts to the 2011 budget will mean some public health concerns will not get the attention they deserve.  He pointed to sexual health clinics, daycare and immunization programs as examples. 

McKeown is also concerned that the board has about 70 unfilled public health jobs, and permission is needed from the city manager to fill them. 

"If a health inspector position is left vacant, it means we are not conducting inspections of restaurants," said McKeown.

"If a public health nurse in a Healthy Baby-Healthy Children's program is left vacant, it means there are families that are not being visited."