The Simple Truth

June 23, 2016

For the second time in about five years, the audit/advisory/consultant thingie, KPMG, was asked to answer the burning question: Does Toronto have a spending or revenue problem? tellmewhatiwanttohearFor the second time in five years, KPMG has reported back: All things considered, there’s more of a revenue problem at work than spending. The city’s pretty tightly run. To avoid seriously cutting essential and even mandated services and programs, City Hall should look at accessing increased revenues.

Oddly though, what many of our elected local representatives, including Mayor John Tory have heard and concluded is: Right. Just like I thought. We need to cut spending. Tighten our belts. To the efficiency-mobile, Batman!

Some urban legends die hard, it seems, if at all, when they run contrary to the political ideology of right wing, small government politicians. There is always more fat to be trimmed, gravy to be drained, excess to excise before we can start talking about revenue. We must learn to live within our means. There’s always money in the banana stand.

This sentiment is so strong with enough of our city council that it’s more than a little surprising that KPMG was called upon to deliver a revenue tools report at all.deaf It was and it did, the City of Toronto Revenue Options Study coming out earlier this week. A boatload of suggestions for raising revenue, some immediately in the city’s purview, others it would have to get provincial permission to implement.

I want to focus on one section of the report, 17, pages 165-170. (A PDF I cannot figure out for the life of me how to load up on this page here, so you’ll just have to follow along via this link). Property Tax Analysis.

This is another shibboleth our mayor and his council allies, and the administration before it, and pretty much every small-minded member of council since at least amalgamation, has taken and spouted as gospel truth. We pay too much in property taxes, dammit! Homeowners (as if it’s just those owning their homes pay property taxes) are already stretched to the max. They cannot afford any more hikes in their property taxes. Seniors will be chased out into the streets…

Similarly, the information presented above suggests that residential property tax rates levied by the City of Toronto and the implied burden on households, expressed both in dollar terms and as a percentage of household income, are lower than those in the majority of other GTHA municipalities. This indicates that there may be an opportunity to increase property tax rates and still maintain burdens that are below the average of the municipalities reviewed, while also considering that Toronto is the only city in the sample that also applies MLTT.

What’s that, you say? By almost any measure, Toronto’s property tax rates “are lower than those in the majority of other GTHA municipalities”? That simply can’t be. If it were, our local politicians wouldn’t be pretending otherwise. “This indicates that there may be an opportunity to increase property tax rates and still maintain burdens that are below the average of the municipalities…” youdontsay1So, why all this ‘at or below the rate of inflation’ insistence Mayor Tory’s pursuing?

Now, I get all the property tax caveats. It’s not a tax that accurately reflects or benefits from current economic realities. The city is too dependent on it and needs to diversify its revenue sources more. There are people who are house rich but cash poor, and property tax increases could jeopardize their ability to own. Toronto does have access to another form of property taxation, the Municipal Land Transfer tax, that other municipalities don’t.

All these can be addressed but the point I’m trying to make here is this determined pursuit of at or below the rate of inflation property tax rate increase simply does not measure up to reality. parrotToronto property tax payers are not already overburdened like the mayor claims, just like his predecessor had trumpeted. As Matt Elliott pointed out last month after City Manager Peter Wallace’s Long Term Financial Report came out, “Since 2010, when adjusted for inflation, the city’s overall take from property taxes has gone down by 4.8%. Homeowners have gotten a break.”

Property taxes have contributed less to the city’s budget over the past 6 years, and even keeping rate hikes at the rate of inflation will further reduce them since costs will inevitably rise higher than that. 5%, I believe the city manager told the budget committee yesterday in its initial meeting about the 2017 budget. If so, other sources of revenue will be needed to help balance the operating budget or further cuts to spending which is already down in terms of per capita numbers since 2010, as Elliott also pointed out.

Arrows heading in a different direction than the one Mayor Tory wants us to believe.

There will be new revenue tools introduced, though very likely not in time for the 2017 budget. texaschainsawmassacreThe mayor, however, has made a point of saying for capital spending which explains his spate of transit announcements this week. Softening the public up for new taxes or fees, dedicated to building all this new stuff the city wants and needs while the operating budget will continue to be squeezed.

Or, as Councillor Mike Layton quoted the city manager telling the budget committee, heading toward “direct austerity” and “smaller government”.

As the KPMG revenue options study suggests, that will be a choice Mayor Tory and his council allies will make not one made out of necessity.

factually submitted by Cityslikr


We Pledge Our Allegiance To Ford Nation

June 21, 2016

texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe in order to keep from descending into daily bouts of screaming madness following along with local politics in this burg, one needs to step back and accept the fact that a majority of voters in this city are small c conservatives. They expect very little from City Hall and believe (erroneously in most cases) they make very few demands upon it. Keep our taxes low, streets clean and safe and get the garbage picked up, and we’ll get along just fine.

Rob Ford’s biggest mistake as mayor wasn’t his loutish and illicit behaviour, at least not directly. The faux pas he committed was exposing us as the bumpkins we truly are in supporting such a character in the first place, the miserliness at our civic core. David Miller’s time in office was an outlier. He tried dragging us into the 21st-century and we didn’t care for it one little bit. John Tory has restored us to our natural state, explaining his continued popularity in spite of his continued mishandling of important files. No matter. As our friend John McGrath suggested earlier this year, “Toronto got exactly what it voted for in 2014: 85% of Rob Ford’s policies with 200% more syllables.”

Mayor Tory continues to dig in and boldly adhere to our traditional ways of municipal governance with his letter to the budget committee, laying out his ‘Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget’. Which are? High in aspiration, low in actually delivering anything other than keeping property taxes unsustainably low and further squeezing the life out of many city services and programs.

David Rider in the Toronto Star and David Nickle of Inside Toronto go into much more detail about what happens if the budget committee and, ultimately, city council follow the mayor’s lead with this. While he talks of new revenue discussions and finding savings from the biggest line item in the city’s budget, the police services, it’s hard to imagine any of that will be in place in time for this year. So in the meantime, Mayor Tory gets to shake every other tree at City Hall in the hopes of finding more low-hanging fruit despite the fact he’s been told repeatedly there’s very little left, none in some cases. Any further paring, so to speak, will only end up causing damage.

And we will cheer him on because that’s what we expect of our elected municipal officials to do. As little as possible, costing us as little as possible. If urban planner, Brent Toderian is correct when he says, “The truth about a city’s aspirations in its vision. It’s found in its budget,” what does that say about Toronto and its vision, its expectations, its aspirations? Mayor Tory’s letter to his budget committee would indicate that we remain, deep down, Ford Nation.

What other conclusion can we draw?

Below, is a copy of Mayor Tory’s letter to the budget committee with some editorial work of mine in red.

* * *

June 17, 2016

City Hall, 2nd floor

100 Queen Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M5H 2N2

To: Gary Crawford, Budget Chief, and Members of Budget Committee

Re: Mayor’s Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget

Toronto is a vibrant and growing city, but it is changing quickly. Our population is increasing and our demographics are shifting, bringing new pressures and expectations.

To compete in today’s global economy and maintain Toronto’s character as vibrant, affordable and liveable for all ages and income levels, the City must keep up with the pace of change and think differently about its role in people’s lives.

We must prioritize our investments and spend our money wisely, providing services with a direct, positive impact for the public.

To that end, this letter outlines my expectations of all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices for the 2017 operating and capital budgets:

The City’s tax-supported 2017 net operating budget target is zero percent over the 2016 net operating budget, meaning $3.97 billion; (No new money)

Inflationary pressures and negotiated wage increases should be absorbed within existing budgets; (In fact, even less money than last year)

Any new or enhanced services should be funded from within existing budgets; (You want to try or buy anything new? Get rid of some old stuff first)

Any new or enhanced services with a “net zero” funding impact should be reviewed for impact on staff time and planned service delivery; (Maybe your new or enhanced service isn’t “net zero” if it costs money for the city to implement and deliver. Did you ever think about that?)

Current service levels should be assessed to confirm their value for money and benefit to the public; (A nice-to-have or a need-to-have?)

Opportunities for efficiencies and alternative service delivery models should continue to be pursued, including contracting out; (See Ford, Rob, Mayor, 2010-2014) and,

Any property tax increase should be at or below the rate of inflation. (No new money. In fact, very likely, less.)

City Building Priorities

While our budget is under real strain (Self-imposed), we must continue to build the city we want (In theory). To that end, I have also identified strategic priorities to complete the mandate we have set out over the past two years.

(This following section is a house of cards built on the contradictory impulses expressed in the first sentence. All the stated intentions here are undermined by (a) the faultiness of the intentions themselves i.e. SmartTrack and/or (b) the budgetary constraints stated above. This is a zero sum game here. For any of this to happen, something else will have to be sacrificed somewhere else in the budget.)

It’s time to exert discipline and ramp up our efforts to build a modern city and an efficient, ambitious and effective government, through:

The ongoing planning, design and construction of our transit network expansion, including SmartTrack, the optimized Scarborough network and the Relief Line, which will take cars off the road, reduce overcrowding on existing transit lines and dramatically increase and improve service across the city, while protecting the existing new transit investments. This transit expansion must move forward efficiently, in order to capture the full value of the currently proposed federal infrastructure investments;

Continued investment in Toronto’s mobility network to provide safe, efficient and reliable ways to move around the city for those travelling by car, bike or on foot;

Continued implementation of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy investments provided for in the 2017 work plan;

Further investment in affordable housing, through our Open Door program; and,

Continued investments in building on Toronto’s standing as one of the most liveable cities in the world through support for arts, culture and public realm projects across the city. (Hoo-rah! A whole bunch of empty cheerleading)

Government Modernization

In the last two years, we have taken some long overdue steps to confront the City’s real underlying pressures without just making arbitrary cuts. (Mayor Tory’s previous call for 5% across the board cuts belies this statement)

The real waste and inefficiency in our City government is found in outdated systems and services, unnecessary duplication and a slow embrace of technology. This is why, despite the declarations of victory made by some, I continue to believe there is much work to be done making large government operate much more efficiently. (No one I know has ever said there’s no more efficiencies. As the city manager has made very clear, there are simply not enough to pay for the stuff the mayor says he wants)

And so, to achieve further real progress, I would like to see an increased focus on digital solutions, measurement and analytics, as well as the expedited completion or implementation of the following reports and reviews:

The Real Estate Review, which will provide an up-to-date assessment of the City’s real estate holdings and create important city-building opportunities;

The Toronto Police Transformational Task Force, which will make recommendations to reduce the growing TPS budget through modernization;

Procurement Review, which is examining the City’s procurement process, especially related to technology solutions;

An immediate prioritization of work that transitions the City to a data-driven organization. All work by City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should be measured, tracked and analyzed so the City can make budget decisions based on sound analytics;

City Programs should also work to meet our Open Data Strategy and targets; and,  City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should prioritize work that provides the people of Toronto with mobile friendly, technology enabled services. This efficiency will free up resources to offer direct services to those who cannot access this service on line.

There is no either/or choice between government efficiency and ambitious city building. (Again, nobody has said otherwise) We can and must contain spending and become more efficient while continuing to make strategic investments in transit, housing and vital infrastructure.

We can do this while maintaining the values and character that make Toronto great.

But it will require a new approach. (If by new approach, the mayor means the same one employed by the previous administration, then yes)

For too long, we have relied on property tax and MLTT revenues without introducing new ways to pay for the city building efforts we support. Alongside the 2017 Budget Process, we must have a serious conversation about new ways to raise revenues, especially to finance longer term capital investments like transit and housing, and we will. (Seems here the mayor is willing to talk about new revenue sources for capital spending, leaving the operating side of the equation dwindling under the weight of at or below the rate of inflation property tax increases)

In the meantime, we owe it to the public to spend their money wisely, before we ask them to contribute more. (**cough cough** Scarborough subway **cough cough** Gardiner East hybrid **cough cough** **cough cough**)

I encourage staff from all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices to help us build a truly modern city that is the envy of the world and to do it while keeping the interests of the people we serve, the residents of Toronto, first and foremost in our minds. (Define “interests”)

 

Sincerely,

John Tory

Mayor of Toronto

submitted by Cityslikr


Smoke Them Out

December 20, 2015

Here’s the original, less gooder edited version of the 2016 budget launch post I wrote for the Torontoist earlier this week.

Speaking of which, while I recognize plenty of worthy causes out there for your consideration this holiday season, you would be making a very substantive contribution to the life of this city by sending some cash the Torontoist’s way. Councillor Shelley Carroll, a former budget chair at City Hall, gave her Best Budget Coverage nod to the Torontoist’s work this week. This can’t happen over the long run without help from readers and everyone else who wants to truly be in the know about the city they live and go about their business in.

So do yourself a favour. Contribute now.

raccoonnation

*  *  *

As the 2016 budget launch wrapped up at a special Budget Committee meeting today, I said to a fellow council watcher as we left the room, “Well, the chicks have come home to roost.” The piper was now demanding his payment. [Insert another cliché here for an imminent moment of decision.]

In what’s being referred to this year as a “Preliminary Budget” instead of what I believe has been called in recent years, “Staff Recommended Budget”, city staff crunched the numbers on both the operating and capital sides of the ledger and delivered up a document that, at first glance, didn’t scare the hell out of everybody. shortfallThe opening pressure on the operating side seemed highly manageable. $57 million, and bringing in Mayor Tory’s proposed at the rate of inflation property tax rate increase of 1.3%, drops it down to just $23 million. A relatively meagre 2.17% bump in the rate would eliminate the opening pressure altogether.

But here’s where the budget qualified as only ‘preliminary’ and not ‘staff recommended’.

City staff did not eliminate the operating deficit as it has done previously, recommending a property tax rate increase for city council to essentially rubber stamp (after much back and forthing during the next couple months). This year, staff threw down the gauntlet, as City Manager Peter Wallace said they would do earlier this month at his fiscal foundation presentation at Executive Committee. closethegapHere’s the revenue you have. Here are the things you said you want to have. You, city council, decide on how and what gets funded. You balance the books, not staff.

Oh, and one last thing: there’s an additional $67 million of requests and directives from council that staff have yet to find any funding for. TTC service improvements like early Sunday openings. Much of the mayor’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Unfunded. In reality that makes for a $124 million opening pressure before you start factoring in property tax rate increases.

And hey. Let’s not even get started on the unfunded capital expenditures city council has thought would be nice but conveniently forgot to find funding for.

Lest you think I’m all gloom and doom here, that is not my intention.

This approach by staff to starting the budget process in the hole, negatively unbalanced, forces city council to start putting its collective money where its mouth is. nowwhatFor too long, too many of our local representatives have drawn up grand Wish Lists, amassing proverbial castles in the sky (and subways in the ground) without ponying up the cash to pay for it. Worse yet, strangling off sources of revenue in the name of Respecting The Taxpayers.

Well, not this year, not if city staff has their way. With this year’s preliminary budget introduced not balanced, staff is attempting to smoke out councillors from their respective hiding spots. You want to keep taxes low and refuse talk of any other new sources of revenue? What are you going to cut? What services are you going to deny or take from city’s residents? You want to help people lift themselves out of poverty? You want the trains to run on time and not over-capacity? How much do you want to increase taxes (above the rate of inflation, by the way)? chickcomehometoroostDo you want to have another discussion about new revenue tools?

City councillors can no longer have it both ways. That is exactly how Toronto has found itself with a mountain or two of unfunded liabilities and projects waiting in the wings. False promises of grand services, a world class city and low, low taxes. Efficiencies will pay for that, with a little dose of current from capital. All good.

As city staff made clear today, it wasn’t all good. If they have their way, 2016 will be the year city council will finally have to either put up or shut up. There is no longer anyplace they can hide for cover.

resubmittingly submitted by Cityslikr


Tolling Smoke And Mirrors

May 21, 2015

hammeragoodideaOut of the fog of debate over the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway, Budget Committee member James Pasternak floated the idea of imposing a toll on non-residents using the city owned and maintained Don Valley and Gardiner expressways. “I think the mayor’s hybrid selection is the way to go, but at the same time, you really do need a secure, reliable source to fund it,” the councillor mused publicly yesterday.

While any talk of tolling roads should be warmly welcomed into the conversation, coming as this does in the service of the willfully misguided effort of Mayor Tory to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated, we have to simply shrug. It’s feels like little more than a dodge, frankly. An attempt to offset the cost argument against the hybrid option, and serving to deflect from the real issue at hand: the hybrid option is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

Besides, the mayor has no time for toll talk. Att least, ever since re-running for mayor. There was time when he held a different view. Of course.

Now as mayor of Toronto, money is no object for John Tory when it comes to dealing with his beloved Gardiner expressway. There’s just a secret stash of it, tucked away somewhere apparently, whenever he’s looking to gussy or speed it up and burnish his pro-car image.

Without mayoral support for the idea, it’s hard to imagine Councillor Pasternak’s toll item garnering much support, consigned surely to the trash bin at the next Executive Committee if it gets even that far along. The right place for it, if for the wrong reason. I mean, why would the councillor stop at tolling non-residents, aside from the fact they can’t vote in a municipal election in Toronto, freeing him of facing any electoral ire? It can’t be just that crass an idea, can it?

No, no. It’s a question of fairness. trashbinCouncillor Pasternak told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning yesterday [segment not yet archived] that Toronto residents pay to maintain the Gardiner and DVP from their property taxes. Why should outsiders get to freeload on our roads, paid for by our hard-earned property taxes?

But how about extending that sense of fairness a little further? Why should I, a resident of Toronto who helps pay for those expressways I rarely use, be forking over the same amount of cash as someone using them on a daily basis? That hardly seems fair, if we’re introducing the concept of road use/pay fairness.

Another member of the Budget Committee, Councillor John Campbell agrees. “I don’t see why all residents and all users of the highway shouldn’t be paying for it. Basically the TTC is a user-pay system. 80% of the funding for the TTC comes out of the fare box. Why shouldn’t our roads be the same?”

That’s just the tip of the inane iceberg of Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea, a half-baked measure with a full on helping of self-interest. letmecorrectitThe expense of co-ordinating the whole thing would immediately bite into any money made to throw at road maintenance. Fellow Budget Committee member (and former Budget Chief) Shelley Carroll said tolls had been discussed extensively, back in 2006 and the introduction of the City of Toronto Act. “What my colleague is proposing is ridiculously expensive,” she tweeted in response to Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea.

“You can’t collect from ‘outsiders only’ without use of transponder system or Tech ‘Road Pricing’ technology of some sort. Would need to be GTA wide, therefore, not just Gardiner. Would cost minimum $300/400 million to install. $30+million a year to operate. All of this would earn about $20/30 million net to Toronto because we would have to partner with GTA & Province.

Despite the fact the Gardiner and DVP are ours to pay for and maintain, in yet another example of the paternalistic relationship we have with Queen’s Park, we’d have to go to the province for permission to toll them even if it was economically feasible which it isn’t. In other words, Councillor Pasternak is just making noise in an attempt to sound as if he’s put a lick of thought into his idea.

But wait. There’s more from the councillor.

Maybe we should just upload responsibilities for these two expressways to the province, as if it were as easy as wishing. toshredsCiting a ‘historical imbalance’, Councillor Pasternak pointed out that other GTA municipalities don’t have to directly financially support their expressways, the QEW, 401, 404, 407. (Did I miss any?) Why should Torontonians have to bear the burden of the Gardiner and DVP alone?

I hate to break it to him but the Gardiner and DVP have always been ours. Aside from the strip of the Gardiner from the Humber to the 427 which the Harris government downloaded onto the city (h/t to Sean Marshall for that bit of info), these 2 urban expressways were Toronto’s from the outset, birthed and raised into being by the 1st chair of Metro council, Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, inspired as he was by the city building prowess of New York City “construction coordinator” Robert Moses. We’ve been maintaining them for some 50 years now. Why suddenly should the province feel compelled to start bearing that burden?

There’s nothing wrong with having a discussion about utilizing road tolls in order to raise revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure. facethemusicIt’s being done throughout the world. We wouldn’t be breaking any new ground there.

But let’s have a realistic discussion on the subject instead of something floated like a lead balloon for no other reason than to divert attention away from an equally politically loaded topic like what to do with the crumbling eastern section of the Gardiner expressway. Councillor Pasternak should be working on answering why we need to throw money to ‘retain and drag’ such an antiquated beast, why exactly is the hybrid option the way to go, not how do we pay to do that. The answer would be much simpler.

We don’t. It’s time to bring the fucker down.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Why He’s Called Dorg

June 22, 2014

Here’s how I saw it.perspective

At Friday’s Budget Committee meeting, during the discussion of the final 2013 operating variance report, which contained a $168.1 million dollar surplus, Councillor Doug Ford had a plan. But first he had to actually read the report, skim it maybe.

From where I sat in the room, he hadn’t. This is the vice-chair of the committee, wanting to play with the numbers, who appeared not to have done his homework. He scrambled to find the pages, assisted by the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Rossini, sitting beside him. The item located, the councillor flipped through it. You could almost hear him mumbling the words as he read them.

Now, if I’m wrong in these observations, I’ll happily retract them. It just struck me as a very on-the-fly process, heightened by the fact, Councillor Ford began scribbling out what would be a motion to amend the item. totallyunpreparedHe urged other committee members to take the opportunity to speak to give him time to finish writing his motion. Everyone waited. Staff. His colleagues at the table.

“This one’s going to flatten the City Manager,” Councillor Ford warned, glibly. Or something to that affect. Here comes a patented Fordian haymaker, folks.

Nothing like blind-siding the city’s top bureaucrat as a stable and judicious form of governance. Hey, Joe. Watch this. I’m going completely fuck with the city’s budget and established protocol. That’s how we roll in the private sector.

It isn’t, of course. One would hope Councillor Ford’s cavalier approach to monkeying around with the budget numbers is anything but sound business practice. I’m just spitballing here, folks. Haven’t put a lick of thought into this but what do you think about…

His motion?

Use 20% of the surplus to give a tax refund to the taxpayers. “It’s their money not ours,” the councillor said breezily, outoftheblueas if it made any kind of sense whatsoever. Put a little less money in the rainy day reserve funds. Pay down a little less of the capital debt. Give people back their money. It’s not as if the city has any pressing need for it.

Unsurprisingly, Councillor Ford’s motion was ruled out of order by the Budget Committee chair, Frank Di Giorgio. Any tax refund would change the property tax rate set by city council earlier this year. Only city council could re-open that matter. It couldn’t be done at the committee level.

“Just cut everybody a cheque,” Councillor Frances Nunziata chimed in, as if the room wasn’t already filled to bursting with the dumb.

Councillor Ford was having none of it. He challenged the ruling of the chair. A majority of the committee members voted against the challenge.

“I’d rather see the money go to filling in potholes,” Councillor Nunziata said as she voted along with Councillor Ford, bullinachinashopchallenging the chair’s ruling.

Well, why are you voting in favour of the challenge in order to bring about a motion that would refund some of the surplus, councillor, rather than have it go back into filling those pot–oh, never mind.

It’s not so much the crass, disruptive grandstanding from Councillor Ford that’s so tiresome and predictable. The tax refund motion was simply a variation of his peeling off $20 bills to give to strangers. It’s the sheer laziness of it.

The year-end variance came as no surprise to anyone who pays even the scantest of attention to city operation. Amounts differ. Some years the surplus is bigger than others. fordnation1But you can always count on some sort of surplus.

Councillor Ford has seen it happen during his time at City Hall four straight times yet he bulls into the meeting as if it’s some sort of newsflash, as if he’s too busy toiling away on other parts of his job to have had the time to read through the report, jot a few ideas down. Neither one of those possibilities is true. Councillor Ford is a half-assed municipal politician whose ignorance of how the city functions is only surpassed by his refusal to take the time to actually learn about it.

The blind leads the willful into a state of total incompetence.

In one sentence, pretty much summing up the Ford administration.

— repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Not A Showdown So Much As A Show Off

January 29, 2014

The 2014 budget city council meets this week to iron out is shaping up to be the most madcap one yet under the Ford administration. madcapAnd that’s saying something, given last year, I believe it was, when Mayor Ford voted against his own budget, following the always reasonable Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti down the rabbit hole of a property tax freeze.

This ain’t a budget debate, Chuck! It’s college hijinx!

No doubt the extra splash of wacky sauce comes, in part, from the fact that it’s a campaign year budget. Nobody wants to be seen as a tax-and-non-spender. You’re going to wind up pissing off some constituency and handing a flaming torch to a willing challenger. Best to try and go unnoticed, quietly not upsetting the status quo.

Not possible, of course, with our very own raging bull, the braying mayor, Rob Ford, doing his very unleveled best to ring the alarm bells about the budget debate. This time around, he’s an absolute free agent when it comes to the budget process. It’s not his budget, he’ll tell anyone still willing to listen to him with any degree seriousness. bullinachinashopHe was stripped of all his powers back in November for no good and probably illegal reason. Stabbed in the back by both friend and foe alike.

Budget 2014 is all on these traitors. Mayor Ford’s hands are clean. Neutered as he was from reining in their tax-and-spend inclinations, this is what happens when he’s not allowed to single-handedly watch over every single dime.

Which is all kind of weird when you start looking more closely at it.

The proposed budget limped out of the Executive Committee with a 2.23% property tax increase attached, roughly the same as the Budget Committee had recommended earlier. Both were down from the 2.75% city staff had advised. Both were roundly criticized by the mayor.

The worst budget ever!” he bellowed.

exactlythesameHere’s the thing.

In 2012, when Mayor Ford was still in (never quite) full control of the budget process, he signed off on a 2.5% property tax hike. In line with this worst one ever but not including a .5% bump dedicated to the first stage of building a new subway. Or, as the mayor likes to claim, an already built subway.

So the mayor’s deriding a budget that, give or take a few million over nearly $10 billion in total, is essentially the same as one he was on board with two years earlier, but now with some new subway attached to it.

You can’t make this shit up, folks.

Making matters even more… what’s a word for nut job zany?… Mayor Ford insists he’s going to move motions that will amount to the tune of some $50 million in savings, therefore removing the need for over 2% of that property tax hike. Without… wait for it…wait for it…affecting services and programs enough that anyone will notice. Easy. Guaranteed.

What kind of cost savings is the mayor proposing? It’s a secret, he says. nottellingStrategically kept from all those back-stabbers who are just waiting to tear his motions to shreds. But don’t get too tied up in knots over his approach. Mayor Ford is sure everything he puts forward will get defeated. So it’ll be like the whole thing never happened.

The Budget and Executive Committees didn’t help the cause in fending off the mayor’s magical budget thinking, ignoring staff recommendations on both the revenue and spending sides of the ledger. In the end, the document going to full city council today reduced the property tax hike while adding additional expenditures, counting on a higher amount of revenue from the Land Transfer Tax than staff estimated. That darned staff. Always keeping their projections low. Fingers crossed, the good times keep on rolling!

As it stands, the members of the Executive Committee attempted a tricky optical manoeuvre, sucking-and-blowing at the same time, only less so than the mayor (although as of this writing, Councillor David Shiner is now singing the praises of yet another cheap stunt property tax freeze, going full out MammoFordie), insaneand we’re now facing what staff has called an unbalanced budget. An unbalanced operating budget is unnatural at the municipal level, unnatural and illegal by provincial statute.

So by the end of this, by hook or by crook, and likely with a little razzle dazzle and smoke and mirrors, someone has to step up and balance the books. But I’m sensing before we arrive at that place, unbalanced will be the order of the day(s). Unbalanced. Unhinged. Unglued.

That’s just how we roll these days.

maniacally submitted by Cityslikr


A Change Has Got To Come

January 25, 2014

I was going to declare Ward 44 Scarborough East an open ward in the 2014 municipal campaign since it’s largely been vacant since 2010. yougottobekiddingThere was no reason to think the current incumbent, Councillor Ron Moeser, would be running for re-election since there’s been some question about his health from the start of this term. He missed much of the first two years owing to illness and, while he’s returned on a more regular basis in the last year, I wouldn’t consider him exactly in the pink.

Still, there’s been rumblings lately he might seek another term, and certainly no definitive announcement that he’s thinking of retiring. He even has his own Twitter account now! (No, not that one. This one.) So… I guess we’ll consider this a non-vacant ward to watch.

Which is unfortunate because, I think, if Councillor Moeser does intend to run again, he will really need to clear the air about just how physically capable he is to do the job. He went down early after winning the 2010 election, almost right off the bat. So quickly, in fact, that people probably should’ve been asking whether he was up to even running in the first place. questionsquestionsquestionsI don’t think it unkind or out of place to say that he’s been essentially an absentee councillor for most of the past 3 years.

Councillor Moeser really needs to put that issue to rest, front and centre, if he plans to keep going on city council.

For me though, perhaps even a bigger factor is his performance when he is on the job. As the mayor’s circle of willing allies shrunk to nearly unworkable levels, Councillor Moeser was foisted onto the budget committee upon his return to work, more or less full time. He seemed out of his depth. And on a committee featuring councillors Frances Nunziata, Vincent Crisanti, Doug Ford and Frank Di Giorgio sitting as chair, that’s saying something.

During this past budget season, Councillor Moeser seemed focussed purely on getting the staff recommended property tax increase down but singularly unable to come up with any suggestions on how to do that, where to find the necessary cuts. Granted, Mayor Ford exhibits similar difficulties with this concept but we shouldn’t really be setting the bar for other council members based on that lowly standard.

Now maybe this has nothing to do with Councillor Moeser’s health. Maybe he’s always been an anti-tax warrior with a tenuous grasp on city budgeting. overwhelmedIf so, who needs any more of those on city council?

Frankly put, Councillor Moeser has looked lost for most of the time I’ve been watching him. At budget committee, at city council meetings, he comes across as largely distracted, often times asking questions that others have already asked and had answered, or just putting forth plain, outright incomprehensibility. He’s tied in my mind with Councillor Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 Etobicoke North) for having staff respond to his questions most often with, “I’m sorry, councillor. I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”

He’s been at this municipal government thing for a long time. Over 25 years now, dating back to his time on the city of Scarborough council minus the 3 years he sat out after being defeated in 2003. That’s a long time and, at this point, it doesn’t appear as if Councillor Moeser’s adapted to the massive changes this city has underground. He comes across as a grumpy old guy, more comfortable in those bucolic days when Scarborough was just some sleepy commuter burg where the biggest troublemakers were those loveable scamps, Wayne and Garth.

Councillor Ron Moeser has not had an easy time keeping Ward 44 since the 2000 election. He always involved in a tight electoral fight. gonegolfingThe last couple he defeated Diana Hall by a combined 350 votes.

If he’s not willing to accept the fact he’s no longer up to the task of representing his ward, it may be time for voters to give him more than just a scare in October. They need to give him a push. On your way, councillor. Thanks for your years of dedication to public service but it’s long since time for a change.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr