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Trouble ahead with 2% budget cuts in 2016

With Mayor John Tory proposing a further across-the-board 2% cut to City services, City Divisions not filling gapped positions, and a dearth of revenue tools — Local 79 President Tim Maguire points to big problems in the 2016 Budget proposals in this deputation to the City’s the Budget Committee.


 

Dear Councillor Crawford and Members of the Budget Committee:

RE: BU 9.5 – Keeping Taxes Low and Putting Families First – Guidance on the Development of the 2016 Budget

On behalf of CUPE Local 79 members who work for the City and deliver services, I would like to comment on the agenda item “Keeping Taxes Low and Putting Families First – Guidance on the Development of the 2015 Budget”.

CUPE Local 79 understands the goal of providing service efficiencies but this effort must be balanced with ensuring services are maintained. Years of flat-lined budgets, cuts across the board, job vacancies and gapping have had a serious impact on the City’s ability to deliver the services that are valued and needed by Toronto’s families.

In the search for further efficiencies, I think former City Manager Joe Pennachetti said it quite clearly – “there is no more gravy to be found at Toronto City Hall. I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services” (Toronto Star, December 3, 2013).

Joe Pennachetti recognized that “city-building is no longer a question of efficiencies; it is about finding revenues to keep core services up to date with growing demand”. As he put it, “We need new tax revenues. We can’t survive any more just on property taxes”. (Metro News May 13, 2014)

Revenue Tools

The time has come to begin seriously looking at new revenue tools for the city and Local 79 would be glad to be part of the discussion.

I invite you to review:

1. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives January 2015 report, Toronto’s Taxing Questions: Options to Improve the City’s Revenue Health. The report states that Toronto is “sitting on more than $600 million in untapped potential revenue”.
2. CUPE National’s municipal toolkit for fair funding for Canadian cities and towns: http://cupe.ca/building-better-communities-fair-funding-toolkit-canadas-cities-and-towns

2% cut

The proposed push for an additional 2% cut across all Divisions is cause for concern. The prospect of reducing budgets by as much as 2% in future years – which would be closer to 4 or 5% with inflation and will be even more when the cumulative impact is taken into account – will only make things worse.

The Operating Variance Report for the Year Ended December 31, 2014 (BU8.3) presented at Budget Committee on May 19th showed that City services are under siege by the twin forces of budget cuts and the increased demand and need for public services in our ever-growing city.

Gapping

Although City Management has repeatedly told Council and its Committees that Divisions are making concerted efforts to aggressively ‘staff up’, gapping levels and the number of vacancies in some Divisions remain a cause for concern. Overall, BU 8.3 shows that the 2014 Operating Budget relied on hiring delays and “under-spending in salaries and benefits” to meet unrealistically tight budget targets.

Service levels cannot be maintained with so many vacancies, gapped positions, overtime, workload increases, and the additional expenses that inevitably follow when services are contracted out.

The Mayor’s letter to the Budget Committee prioritizes transit and physical infrastructure which is certainly important. But what about social infrastructure and the myriad of other programs Toronto families rely on? What about public health programs, child care, shelters, parks, and youth programming? Will the ambitious Toronto Poverty Reduction strategy be cut by 2% before it is even launched? Toronto families need services, not service cuts.

Yours truly,

Tim Maguire
President

 

*Photo credit: FLICKR user sookie

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