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2016 City Operating Budget at City Hall Budget consultations

The City’s Budget Committee conducted three days of public consultations (January 12-14, 2016) about the proposed 2016 Operating and Capital Budgets that affect all workers who work for the City of Toronto. The details in the 2016 budget show how staffing levels, gapping rates and vacancies have had a major impact on the delivery of City services. Over 2500 jobs remain unfilled in the City’s workforce because of gapping and vacancies. Local 79, along with many other organizations and agencies, wants the City to find long-term, sustainable solutions to its revenue problem.

Dear Councillor Crawford and Members of the Budget Subcommittee:
RE:      BV5.1 – Public Presentations on the 2016 Capital and Operating Budgets
On behalf of 20,000 City workers, members that CUPE Local 79 represents, I would like to share my impressions and concerns about the preliminary 2016 Operating Budget.
Toronto is a dynamic city with the potential to be the best city to in which to live, work, play and raise a family, but the truth is we face some incredible challenges that stop us from reaching our potential. We are the most unequal city in Canada with the highest concentration of working poor, and that number continues to rise. There are too many people in our city who just can’t make ends meet.
There have been promises made and many hopes pinned on the outcome of these budget deliberations ̶ promises made that we will invest in the services and supports our communities need as part of City Council’s made-in-Toronto poverty reduction strategy. Yet the proposed budget just doesn’t deliver ̶ and in some instances the cuts and cost savings buried in the details will make matters worse.
For example:

  • Child Care

The Children’s Services Operating Budget has been reduced by 1% despite the need for the system to expand and provide more child care spaces and subsidies. Parkside Child Care pre-school program is being closed.

  • TTC – transit

Expanded bus services and improvements are not included in the budget.

  • Toronto Community Housing

Repairs to TCH housing are unfunded Many of the Mayor’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing recommendations are incomplete and there’s no dedicated funding in the budget to finish the job.

  • Shelter, Support & Housing Administration

Two drop-in warming centres for the homeless ̶ that are currently open 24/7 for the coldest months of the year (January and February) – will not have the resources to continue unless the budget is changed to accommodate this lifesaving service for the most vulnerable population in Toronto.
The City’s commitment to achieve a target of 90% occupancy in emergency shelters will not be met – shelters will continue to be full-up every night.

  • Social Development, Finance & Administration

Toronto Youth Employment (YET) Program to reach out and help youth at risk of violence and crime is not in the budget.

  • Parks, Forestry & Recreation

There is no money in the budget to finish the job of expanding the ten Council-approved youth spaces. The last three were supposed to be completed this year, but the money is missing in the 2016 budget.

  • Toronto Employment & Social Services

The program started in 2015 to support single parents who face barriers accessing employment has been cut. There is no funding available in the 2016 budget to continue providing that critical support.

  • Board of Health

Expanding the student nutrition program, as part of the multi-year strategy to ensure all children in Toronto have a healthy breakfast, is not included in the 2016 preliminary budget.
After years of promising to reduce gapping and vacancy levels there are still over 2,500 unfilled jobs in the City’s workforce complement. (According to the 2015 third quarter Operating Variance.) That means City workers have fewer resources to deliver services to residents. Workers are forced to watch as programs are cancelled and service standards lowered.
It’s not surprising that vacancies remain high. Divisions are forced to absorb additional costs while expanding programming. Consistently Divisions report that they are underspending their budgets by savings in salaries and benefits through vacancies – that’s how they’re hitting the City’s imposed budget targets.
We can see from the details in the 2016 budget how staffing levels, gapping rates and vacancies have had a major impact on the delivery of City services.   The complexities of communities’ needs are also increasing. Rising poverty and an aging population are just two challenges our communities face that require increasingly sophisticated services which are impossible to deliver without sufficient staffing.
Insistence on keeping property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation means the City needs to finally engage in an adult discussion about what tools we can use to invest in the services and supports that our growing communities need to truly prosper.
Toronto shouldn’t be fostering temporary/part-time precarious work, cutting services, contracting out, delaying projects, underfunding programs, and leaving 2,500 jobs vacant. We need long-term sustainable solutions to our revenue problem, not a fire-sale of City assets that may provide quick cash for “bricks and mortar” projects but make the City’s operating budget even more anemic. It’s time to invest in Toronto’s potential as a great, inclusive, liveable city – a city that works for everyone.
Yours truly,
Tim Maguire