Toronto to consider $740M in major service cuts

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee is set to consider cuts totalling more than $740 million to police, transit, public health and environment programs.

Selling Toronto Zoo among suggestions

The city should explore pursuing reduced police salaries when in the next round of contract negotiations, KPMG suggests. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee is set to consider cuts totalling more than $740 million to police, transit, public health and environment programs.

Independent accounting and consulting firm KPMG identified the possible cuts as part of a sweeping review of the city's services ahead of a push to cover an estimated $774-million budget shortfall.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto on Thursday, Ford wouldn't commit to making any of those cuts.

"To drill down right now and to give you exactly what we're going to do, it's very premature," he said. "We're at the first stage.

"We're going from department to department. To say exactly what's going to be contracted out, what's going to be closed, I can't give you that information now. I don't think anyone can."

In a report released Thursday, KPMG lists a number of possible cuts to Toronto agencies, boards and commission. Among the most significant suggestions involves the Toronto Police Service, which has a $977 million annual budget.

Cuts to police benefits suggested

The report suggests reducing the size of the force through attrition or scaling back recruitment of new officers. Another suggestion involves "exploring opportunities" in the next collective bargaining agreement for "cost reductions in areas such as one-officer patrols, reduced salary, benefits, retirement benefits and shift overlap."

The Toronto Police Association recently ratified a deal that would give members an 11.5 per cent wage hike over the next four years. The  mayor has yet to publicly comment on the deal, but his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, called it "fair" and indicated going to arbitration would have cost the city more.

KPMG says costs could also be lowered by reducing or eliminating the school guard crossing program and doing away with a rule that requires police officers to supervise some construction sites.

The firm's report lists an array of possible cuts to other Toronto agencies, boards and commissions, including:

  • Closing some library branches and reducing hours at others.
  • Selling the Toronto Zoo.
  • Scrapping the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which provides grants to a host of environmental programs.
  • Eliminating  late-night TTC bus service.
  • Implementing stricter criteria for those wishing to use the Wheel Trans facilities.
  • Eliminating public health community programs that fund AIDS prevention strategies.
  • Selling off-street parking facilities.
  • Selling Exhibition Place to private concerns.
  • Having a third party take over operation of Heritage Toronto, which promotes heritage conservation.

It will be up to the mayor's executive committee, which meets next Thursday, to determine which of those cuts should be implemented. Once the executive committee makes those decisions, Toronto council will vote on the proposals in late September.

Campaign promised no cuts

Ford promised during his election campaign that city services would not be cut, but he suggested Toronto's budget woes could be addressed by cutting spending and waste at city hall.

Moreover, he said in an interview with Toronto radio station AM 640 last week that he remains committed to incrementally eliminating the land transfer tax, which nets the city an estimated $220 million in annual revenue.

In addition, Ford believes the city has too many employees, and some 17,000 city workers have already been offered buyout packages. Police, fire or emergency workers did not receive offers.

Thursday's KPMG report is the last of a series of reviews of municipal department spending. Dubbed the core services review, the exercise is meant to distinguish which services are either essential to the functioning of the city or mandated by law and which services are not.

Suggested cuts have already included eliminating 2,000 city-subsidized daycare spaces, reducing the city's 70 per cent waste diversion  target and merging the fire and EMS departments.

The city is also conducting service efficiency studies, which aim to determine how service delivery can be improved. In addition, the city will also look at user fees to see if there are opportunities for new fees or fee changes.

Shown below are some of the more notable KPMG suggestions.