Public meeting airs cost-cutting concern

In the September run-up to city council’s preliminary budget decisions, East Yorkers gathered at Eastminster United Church on Danforth Avenue to hear how proposed cuts to the city’s budget could impact core services.

Councillors Mary Fragedakis of Ward 29/Toronto-Danforth and Paula Fletcher of Ward 30 invited locals to a town hall meeting on Sept. 11 to have their say about the controversial KPMG auditors’ report. The consultant firm recommended slicing 10 per cent from the city’s budget through cost-cutting initiatives such as closing Riverdale Farm, eliminating environmental programs and reducing the number of subsidized childcare spaces in the city.

“They (KPMG) did not evaluate the impact of their options,” Fragedakis said. “They didn’t evaluate how these cuts might affect people’s lives, nor did they evaluate how these cuts might affect Toronto’s future prosperity.”

John Campey, executive director of the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, was one of the meeting’s guest speakers. He said the proposed cuts threaten a wide range of services from well-baby programs to recreational facilities for seniors.

“Looking at the impact of a 10 per cent cut, that will have an impact on our city, literally, from cradle to grave,” he said.

The city currently runs 10 long-term care centres for seniors. The KPMG report suggested that nine of these facilities be privatized or sold, greatly reducing the care available for those most in need, Campey said.

“Private operators do what is called creaming; they take residents who are the easiest to care for, the cheapest to care for, and push out or don’t admit those who require the highest levels of care,” he said. “Those are the folk, those most vulnerable, those most in need, who will be dumped in the one remaining facility. That, to me, is an absolute outrage and shame on any administration that would consider it.”

Meeting attendees lined up to express their opposition to the proposed cuts. Jennefer Laidley, a Ward 30 resident, expressed her concerns over the Ford administration’s lack of transparency in deciding what services will be axed.

“A lot of what’s going on in City Hall right now is all about abuse of process,” she said. “It’s about bullying and it’s about doing things in a backhanded manner, without shining the light on decision making processes.”

Fragedakis echoed the need for clarity, saying councillors are unsure where the city’s supposed budget shortfall figure of $774 million came from.

“Some numbers have been bandied about, but we don’t really know exactly where we stand,” she said. “We know we ended last year with a surplus. We know we ended the year before that with a surplus. I also know that an overwhelming number of the 13,000 Torontonians who filled out the core service review wanted to protect city services.”

To add to the confusion, City Manager Joseph Pennachetti has contradicted figures quoted by Mayor Ford, saying the city faces a budget shortfall of $500 to $600 million in 2012. This deficit represents a 15 to 20 per cent tax increase if spending is not reduced, he said.

While Ford’s executive committee voted against cuts to some services on Sept. 19, including library closures, reduced snow removal, the elimination of 2,000 subsidized daycare spaces and closure of the Riverdale Farm (which is seeking new “partnerships” in order to remain operational), many cuts are still on the table. Cutbacks to the police force, affordable housing initiatives, environmental programs, animal services and others will now be referred back to city staff to consider as part of the ongoing budget process, which ends in mid-January.