WATCHDOG: No gravy to be found in Toronto’s budget

East York Mirror
By Joe Cooper
Making sense of the City of Toronto budget is not an easy thing, but it is not impossible.

The city staff and our local councillors make considerable effort to summarize it. There were several town hall and community meetings during January to review its contents.

One was held at East York Civic Centre, where a group of concerned citizens were given a detailed overview of the proposed structure of the 2016 budget.

Let me remind you that at this point the budget is still at the consultation and debate stage. It still has to go to city council for final debate and approval, so it is far from complete.

This is one of the positive aspects of living in a democracy; the final decision is not made until the last vote is taken.

The key points regarding the 2016 budget lay in the areas of public transportation, service improvement, and infrastructure expansion.

However, there are still key issues that need to be addressed due to the urgency of many of the public concerns they cover. For example, there is a poverty reduction strategy that has been proposed, but while it sounds good on paper, it is still underfunded.

Poverty in Toronto is a growing issue as many groups in different locations around the city remain marginalized from the economic benefits that are offered here.

Likewise, the city still remains behind most modern urban centres when it comes to having a truly effective public transportation system.

Rather than expanding, child care in the city was actually reduced by one per cent last year, which may not seem a large number, but the effects are noticeable.

Toronto Community Housing continues to be a public embarrassment as the city’s public housing needs repairs that are months, if not years, behind schedule. Our wonderful resource of parks and the associated equipment remains precariously underfunded, while more and more people come to use them.

Critical services, such as the city’s fire prevention operations, remain underfunded despite the city’s increasing population.

This past week’s cold snap underscores the fact that the city’s emergency cold weather drop-in service is being pushed to its limits.

Major transportation initiatives, such as Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal, are at risk of being shelved or seriously downgraded as there are no funds to finance them.

Plans to revamp the rapidly deteriorating Gardiner Expressway are no further ahead, despite being approved by council, simply due to a lack of funding.

On top of all of this, there is $30 million in “ordinary” capital projects that are on hold due to lack of funding. What you need to understand is that only 34 per cent of the operating costs come from property taxes.

The majority of the money paid out goes to emergency services, transportation, infrastructure, and core services. Not frivolous items as some would have you believe.

There is no gravy.


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