friends of dufferin grove park
City Budget, 2003-2004

On this page: City Budget Overview, 2003  |  Budget Consultation, 2004

City Budget Overview, 2003, by the numbers

posted Feb 1, 2004

For an overview of the city's, and parks and rec's, budget situation. These are a few charts, graphs, and numbers taken out of city backgrounders to the budget process. The page also provides links to city web pages for those interested. Read more >>

Budget Consultation, 2004

A City Budget Consultation (Feb 10): A Neighbour's Overview.
by Henrik Bechmann, Gladstone Ave.
posted Feb 11, 2004

I attended a budget consultation hosted by our councillor Adam Giambrone at Wallace Emerson Centre the other night (Feb. 10). With information from that meeting, together with information I've gleened from the website work I've been doing here, I came away with the following impressions:

1. The Budget Crunch

The City's budget is huge (see City Budget Overview), this year approaching $7B gross, $3B net. But our city councillors are boxed in:

  • The city is facing a $340M deficit.
  • Councillors are required by law to balance the budget (otherwise council could be taken over by a provincial trustee like the school board).
  • The biggest part of the budget (the police budget, approaching $700M) is SECRET (but that's another story).
  • Toronto has had to absorb huge costs downloaded from the province.
  • We the people pay out $9B more annually than the city gets back in money or services.
  • The budget deadline is looming (April).

In this climate, there's a real urge to cut programs or services on a wholesale basis. It seems to me, based at least on the ten years of work in the park, that with some finesse, imagination, and a large dose of practicality, there are alternatives.

2. The Parks and Recreation Department

This budget crunch sets a stressful backdrop for all departments, including Parks and Rec. As stated on the Working with the City page:

Toronto has 7,400 hectares of park land, 839 sports fields, 140 community recreation centres, and 670 other facilities such as pools, golf courses, ski centres, greenhouses, and ferries.

In 2003, the combined operating and capital budget of Parks and Recreation was about $210 million. The department's responsiblities are complex and the tracking of costs is not quite reliable. As the year drew to a close, it became evident that the budget had been exceeded by some millions of dollars. At first the number seemed to be around $3 million. By now, the budget overrun is rumoured to be between $8 and $10 million.

This is a big responsibility. Can the people at the department handle this scenario?

In the negative, I have heard the opinion from neighbours at the budget meeting and around the park that Parks and Rec management do not always seem to be on point, and in fact often seem to be adrift. The examples of excessive and misguided formality documented on our Working with the City pages support this view. In addition, there are troubling, surprising, unnecessary and wholely wasteful instances of conflict (see for example The Inspector Crisis).

In the affirmative, people around our park have so far thankfully been able to find some terrific people in the Department to work with. Examples of this collaboration abound in the Park. As a small recent example the Zamboni crisis was in the end resolved constructively.

There is some concern that people at the Parks and Rec. Department may have some kind of cultural problem or internal conflict which could interfere with successfully facing the pressures of the times. There is a lingering sense that we in the community have to fight an uphill battle to preserve and improve the services that we need. It seems to me it is worth our while to continue to monitor the situation, continue to work at understanding it, and see where we can help. Hopefully we can do all three.

Hopefully we'll do what we can as a neighbourhood. Through this website for example, we can publish information that we find, and make suggestions. Here are a few that were mentioned at the budget consultation meeting:

  • Take maximum advantage of existing resources. A small example is pressing a garage into service as a kitchen, as in our zamboni garage.
  • Make the entire budget process transparent.
  • Support a "Push Back" to the province.
  • Support a "New Deal" for cities.
  • Promote close collaboration between communities like ours and city staff.
  • Promote practicality: "Stick to the knitting". We need the Department to make the parks a nice place to play. It is our responsibility to use them to best advantage.
3. Some interesting background views

Councillor Kyle Rae I asked one of the finance department staff (Judy...) if it was true that the police budget (approaching $700M) is secret. Councillor Soknacki Her response: the police department has a "different reporting relationship" with the city than other departments - through the police services board, under regulation by provincial statute. She indicated that the city doesn't get "the same level of detail" from the police department as from other departments, although some information is released throughout the year. Councillor David Soknacki (the chair of the finance committee) in his address later said that the city is obliged to deal with this budget on an "envelope" basis (hand them the budget as a whole). Adam indicated during the meeting that there are two councillors who have access to the details of the police budget: Councillors Kyle Rae and Pam McConnell. Mayor David Miller Councillor Pam McConnell Adam later indicated that both he and Mayor David Miller have been surprised by the consistency and intensity of the reaction against the secretiveness and size of the police budget throughout the city. At the moment, the only way a police budget can be changed is through an arbitration process managed by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (http://www.occps.ca). Soknacki indicated that he takes issue with this whole philosophy.

The same finance department person felt that although there was a dip in morale after amalgamation, things were back to normal now. She felt that (apart from the direct costs of amalgamation) there were indeed savings, primarily at the management level, by reducing duplication, though she said that numbers were not available. She and another finance staff person (Tobias Novogrodsky) said that performance was measured by "benchmarking" (comparison to other jurisdications), and comparison of results to internal objectives. The city has recently introduced performance-based compensation as an "incentivization" of staff. The province has recently mandated somthing called MPMP (municipal performance management program) to address productivity. Altogether they have a concept of a "cascading" set of performance standards (top to bottom).

Notes from the Feb 10 Budget Consultation by Councillor Giambrone's staff
posted April 11, 2004

Ryan of Councillor Giambrone's Staff assembled these notes from the workgroups that the participants formed. Thanks to Kevin Beaulieu of Councillor Giambrone's office for forwarding them to us.

Ward 18 Listening to Toronto Budget Consultation
Wallace-Emerson Community Centre
February 10, 2004 - 6:30 p.m.

There is a general sense from residents in ward 18 that they are getting less, but paying more for it. Services have declined in the area. Overwhelmingly, constituents expect that the police budget should shoulder its fair share of budget cuts.

  1. What are your funding priorities for the 2004 City of Toronto Budget?
    • Transit
    • Libraries
    • Parks & Recreation
      • o Community Centres, Youth Programs
        • Low or no user fees - ensure that youth have access to programs
        • Look for efficiencies in program budgets
      • o More dog enforcement
      • o Parks build strong communities and make for stronger cities
    • Child Care
      • o No cuts to workers wages - more cuts will break the child care community; we need experienced workers
    • Police services budget
      • o More community policing creates a strong community is a safe community
      • o We don't see the quality and level of services in ward 18 that equal funds allocated and the police (also goes for snow removal and other items)
    • Community services
      • o Language support services
    • Waste collection and street cleaning
      • o Pickup used to take place twice each week
      • o Litter is becoming a problem in the ward
    • Water quality and supply
    • City Infrastructure
      • o Preserve or repair our infrastructure, especially roads
  2. What are you willing to give up in order to balance the budget?
    • Parks & Recreation
      • o Capital budget (but not the needed ones)
      • o Planning in parks and recreation
    • Not willing to give up any of the services that we are currently receiving
    • Reduced budget for roads and potholes
    • Policing
      • o It is important, but they should be able to make cuts in total budget to help fund community programming - they are the only ones getting raises
    • Toronto Zoo
    • Non-essential free services
      • o i.e., free videos and CDs at libraries
  3. Which services would you be willing to pay more for in order to keep them?
    • Heritage
      • o We do a poor job of protecting buildings
    • Recycling
      • o Implement a garbage tax as an option
    • Recreation programs
    • City's state of good repair
    • Not prepared to pay any more user fees, but would pay more taxes if it helped. Problem exists with lack of provincial & federal funding.
    • Willing to pay more taxes if they're restored into public services.
    • 10% of entertainment taxes directed to the arts
    • Fines for destructive behaviour, dumping
    • Consider toll charges on roads like the DVP and the Gardiner, and higher parking fees
  4. What advice would you offer the city?
    • Efficiancy, accountability, and transperency and community partnership
      • o i.e. mixed use - Dufferin Grove rink house
    • Better coordination of city departments and projects
      • o i.e. speed hump people don't talk to the road re-surfacing people
    • Proper taxing to allocate funding for needs of each community
      • o Either provincial tax increase in order to give city more funds or increase municipal property taxes and allocate to programs and services in needed communities.
      • o Don't mind if we're paying more if we're getting our services - but it feels like we're getting a reduction in services.
    • We have to improve and beautify our city
    • No new taxes until some other avenues have been explored - cut 10% from budgets
      • o Transparency is an issue in the budget process - work with the people in the community, find out what they want
    • Push for a New Deal, and seek more partnership funding from the federal government & provinces
      • o Power to raise commercial property taxes is important, but don't hurt small businesses
      • o Get our fair share of tax revenues
    • Constituents are pushing back - they see things that they shouldn't be paying for and they want to maintain core services.
    • Management money could go into cleaning the streets and safety
    • Huge consulting fees could be suspended for a fixed period to save money as well as capital projects
    • "Upload our "downloaded" services
      • o Housing and Homes for the Aged shouldn't be municipal responsibilities