Shorter City Manager Annual Address

May 14, 2014

goodshape

Everything’s fine. Everything’s under control despite the assault on reasoned municipal governance endured by the city of Toronto over the past 4 years.

Storm clouds on the horizon?

Queen’s Park and Ottawa have to get more seriously involved in both the transit and housing files. The province needs to return to the table with its share of half the TTC’s annual operating budget. The feds, well. No country in the developed world is missing any sort of national participation in social housing (not to mention public transit) except this one. Cities should not, cannot be expected to foot the lion’s share of funding to provide affordable housing for its residents. Without serious partners on this, City Manager Joe Pennachetti suggests, sooner rather than later, we will be forced to start closing down housing because there will be no way to keep all of it safe and inhabitable. He calls this the “smoking gun”, threatening Toronto’s fiscal sustainability.

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Local politicians also need to wean themselves off such a heavy dependence on the property tax base as a source of revenue. No, no, no. This doesn’t mean keeping them low. Our residential property tax rate remains the lowest in the entire GTA. We have to diversify, tap into other ways of paying for things. The city manager is partial to a local sales, income or corporate tax. Discuss amongst yourselves but we need to stop pretending that Toronto doesn’t have a revenue problem. It was a catchy phrase that was the complete opposite of the truth.

The city manager’s 3rd annual address to the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance was pretty much a repeat performance. Nothing entirely new or surprising. If only more of our elected officials (and electoral hopefuls) were listening.

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repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


We Have Enough

March 12, 2014

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

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But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

finally submitted by Cityslikr


From Afar With Frozen Pipes

January 30, 2014

If you take nothing else away from the first day of the 2014 budget debate, let it be this:todayslesson

From City Manager Joe Pennachetti, we have about reached cap level in finding savings for the city through efficiencies. There’s no more fat on the bone. Any further efficiencies will result in service and program cuts.

Also from the city manager, any continuation of raising property taxes at less than the rate of inflation (at least without some other source of revenue to fill the gap) is not sustainable. It is not fiscally responsible. It will lead to further reductions in services and programs in the long run.

Beware the city politician who now comes to you and says we can maintain all the services and programs we want, need and must provide through finding efficiencies and keeping tax increases unsustainably low.cuttothebone

Uh-uh.

They are selling you a bill of goods.

That’s what you need to take away from Wednesday.

Oh, and Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is a douche. A malignant force on the political life of this city. A do-nothing elected representative unable to grasp even the most basic concepts of municipal governance.

Remember that.

And about efficiencies and low taxes.

And another thing. Councillor David Shiner is intent on further gutting the ability of the city to deliver the services and programs it is obligated to. texaschainsawmassacreHe sees gaps in job vacancies at City Hall and its inability to fill them as needed as some sort of failure to deliver those services and programs to the public. He demands a refund. Starve it and kill it.

And Councillor Doug Ford. See, Mammoliti, Giorgio above.

And one more thing. Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio has absolutely no place being budget chief. He understands the numbers less than I do. And I’m not budget chief.

Remember all that as we go forward. Remember, all these councillors either don’t care or don’t know that the policies they’re pursuing are hindering the city’s ability to deal with the growth it’s experiencing in any sort of fair, healthy or sustainable manner. They all claim to respect the taxpayer, to be looking out for the taxpayer yet don’t seem to give a toss about the financial burnittothegroundwherewithal of the city they’re elected to represent to manage and its ability to deal with the future.

Remember all that going forward.

That, and Mayor Ford is in legal trouble again. Again.

It is days like these I am amazed these arsonists have not yet managed to burn this place to the ground.

icily submitted by Cityslikr


Trist And Zara

November 26, 2013

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are — an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

To Make A Dadist Poem

tristantzara

Dada – I’ll let Wikipedia explain it if you aren’t already familiar with the concept, Wikipedia lifting a snippet on the topic from a book by Dona Budd, The Language of Art Knowledge – “… was born out of negative reaction to the horrors of World War I … Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition.”

I thought of Dada as I sat watching the mayor and his councillor-brother perform at yesterday’s launch to the 2014 city budget. Definitely a rejection of reason and logic. Lots of irrationality and nonsense.

Their whole scatter-shot outrage seemed created, Dada-style, campaign slogans and rhetoric, picked out randomly from different pockets and blown out through a megaphone. dadaGravy Train! Tax and Spend! Respect For Taxpayers! For Gravy! Taxpayers Spend Tax! Train and Respect!

None of it has to make any sense. It just has to be loud and repeated, repeatedly. Add any context and almost everything that came out of the two brothers’ mouths was little more than monkey babble.

As was quickly pointed out by the media, the 2.5% (oh, I’m sorry) the 2.52% staff proposed property tax increase that the mayor/brother cited as proof that the tax-and-spend floodgates had opened wide without his/their oversight that council stripped away last week is almost exactly the same as the 2.5% property tax increase the mayor himself oversaw and approved just two budgets ago.

Let me write that out in capital letters so no one misses the glaring inconsistency and blatant hypocrisy in the fast one Mayor Ford is trying to pull off.

2012 2.5% PROPERTY TAX INCREASE = 2014 2.5% PROPOSED PROPERTY INCREASE.

The math hasn’t changed. Each number in the equation has the same value in 2014 as it did in 2012. dada2Team Ford was for a 2.5% property tax increase before they were against it.

On top of which, this year’s 2.5% comes with money for the Scarborough subway the mayor so vigorously championed and was so quick to claim credit for when city council approved it last summer. So, in effect, the 2012 Mayor Ford was the kind of gravy loving tax and spender the 2014 Mayor Ford is off railing about and campaigning against.

But consistency is not your goal when you’re simply pulling ideas from your pockets, hat or ass. Or, at least, consistency of thought isn’t. To give him credit, the mayor has maintained his consistency of performance for the past 3 years. Always the outsider. Always looking out for the little guy. Always angry.

And always, always wrong.

One thing that seems to go largely unnoticed during these budget debates is that residents of the city of Toronto (as of this year’s proposed budget) pay nearly $1100 less in property taxes [page 14]  than the GTA average. dada3Yes, there are matters of mill rates and property values. Property taxes aren’t the only funds we hand over to live in the city. But to stagger around, beating your chest and bellow how over-taxed we taxpayers of Toronto are displays a certain detachment from reality.

(I hesitate to present further data that might not give all the salient factors but graph two here would suggest that even compared to 7 other Canadian jurisdictions, Toronto has not been in the grips of crazed tax lovers intent on picking every last nickel from our pockets.)

Especially if you take a look at the admittedly hard to make out picture on page 34 of the city manager’s Strengthening Toronto’s Fiscal Health, Investing for the Future report and see what we get in return for the taxes and fees we give to the city. You’d just have to hate the very notion of government, of a collective sense that some things are worth paying for and are cheaper to pay for if we all chip in, to look at the picture and not conclude that we’re getting pretty good bang for the buck here in Toronto. There’s nothing rational or logical in thinking otherwise.

That’s what makes the Fords and their followers political Dadaists. They react negatively to what they see as the horrors of government and the murderous demands others make upon them. Unable to combat such expectations with sound reasoning and thoughtful opinion, they resort to utter nonsense and incoherent gibberish.

dada1

It doesn’t have to make sense. Just noise. Incomprehensible, disordered, absurd noise.

artfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Big Freeze

August 20, 2012

Good news, Toronto!

Looks like the city’s not going to face a what-the-hell-let’s-just-go-for-a 10% cut across the board in fiscal year 2013. Nope. Things are looking up. We’re just going to have to deal with a 0% budget freeze. So already put upon departments, services and programs will merely grind to a further halt through attrition and more sprung leaks rather than amputations and major blood loss.

Along with a spending freeze, the Globe and Mail reports that city manager Joe Pennachetti has also called for ‘a ban on new service initiatives’. So, it’s all stand pat and hope for the best. We just can’t be too sure how big our surplus is going to be next year.

It’s difficult to keep your head above fiscal choppy waters when you insist on swimming with only one arm. Mayor Ford’s proposed 1.75% property tax increase barely covers the rate of inflation, never mind any of the wage settlements various city workers are scheduled to receive. Instead of exploring other sources to generate more revenue, it’s all about further reducing services until…

Well, that’s the $123 billion infrastructure deficit question.

You see, fiscal conservatives on council will tell you that we need to reduce the $400+ million spent annually on paying down our debt principle and interest. When we get rid of that, well then, the sky’s the limit. We can start dishing out for all those nice-to-haves everybody loves so much but doesn’t really want to pay for.

Like a properly operating public transit system. Serviceable roads. Bridges that don’t fall down in chunks. Libraries with computers and books other than trade paperbacks.

Until such time when this city is debt free, we’ll all have to just get by. Make do with less. Show the kind of discipline the likes of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is so proud of when he votes to cut everything Mayor Ford says needs to be cut.

Discipline and courage.

“I am doing this for everybody’s future,” fiscal warrior and city budget chief, Mike Del Grande proclaimed. “Unfortunately, they want me to be the bad guy.”

No, that’s not true, councillor. What we really want you to be is a better budget chief. One who realizes that miserly penny-pinching and refusing to have a sensible discussion about the true costs of maintaining a healthy city now doesn’t in the least leave a prosperous future for the coming generations. It just leaves a mess that they have to clean up and you don’t have to pay for.

In reality, it’s kind of the exact opposite of courage and discipline.

I don’t know how much latitude senior bureaucrats like Mr. Pennachetti have with the elected official they deal with. Certainly the fate of Gary Webster must serve as a cautionary tale about dealing with the Ford administration. But this budget freeze/no new service initiatives mode he’s adopted for the upcoming year is at odds with the city manager I saw speak at the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance this spring about Toronto’s fiscal health. He boasted about our double-A credit rating. He suggested there was probably no more than $100 million still to find through efficiencies. Further cutting wasn’t going to solve any looming crisis that may be waiting up ahead for us.

And make no mistake, Mr. Pennachetti is now proposing further cuts to departments and agencies that he has already taken a knife to in the past couple years. Zero increases mean less money. Even our current budget chief can do the simple math from that.

As long as the city manager insists on making these kinds of austerity demands, he continues to play accomplice to those who aren’t really all that interested in being fiscally responsible. He offers cover to their claims of being brave and disciplined. He’s insisting on further hardship for those already hard hit by previous cutbacks for the sake of those operating under the faulty premise that they’re hard done by.

Our city manager’s already done much dirty work for Mayor Ford. It’s time he starts looking out for the best interests of those who’ve paid a hefty price for their collaboration.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr