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2009 Budget Notes

2009 operating Budget Release

by Henrik Bechmann

posted February 18, 2009

See also 2009 Budget Summary

The 2009 Budget was released at a public meeting of the Budget Committee of City Council on February 10, 2009.

Review

The City of Toronto Recommended Operation Budget was released to the public (in summary form) on February 10, 2009.

The highlights listed by the City's press release include:

  • Public Transit, including service improvements and stable fees
  • Climate Change Initiatives, including the Mayor's Tower Reneewal program and others
  • Public Spaces support, including upgrades to Union Station, street furniture, waterfront, and new and upgraded parks
  • Community Health and Wellness, highlighting support for relatively vulnerable groups in the city
  • Creative City initiatives (a gathering with Martin Prosperity Institute, and Artscape
  • Public Access and Accountability - 311 service June 2009, expand courts, lobbyist registrar, and Office of City Engagement

The public slide presentation presented more detail. The sections of the presentation echo the communication objectives of the city:

Continuing provision and in some cases enhancement of city services, specifically (from the presentation):

  • Keep Residential Property Tax and User Fee inflationary increases to within 2 4%
  • Freeze TTC fares
  • Protect residents and businesses against the effects of recession
  • Target of Zeronet increase over 2008 and one percent for 2010
  • Provide an additional 2% reduction options to contribute to COLA
  • City Programs and ABCs to continue to pursue opportunities for efficiencies and continuous improvement

Another view from the city presentation:

  • The 2009 Operating Budget is balanced
  • Budget tax increase kept to 2.5% on total tax base
  • Continuous improvement savings of $102 million net identified
  • Base budget expenditure increase directed to:
    • Protect exist services and service levels e.g. emergency services
    • Implement TTC Ridership Growth Strategy
    • Improve public access to city services and information
    • Maintain winter snow clearing service levels
  • City investment of $23 million leverages $94 million to invest in Mayor and Council priorities:
    • Transit
    • Climate Change
    • Community Health and Wellness
  • Increasing current contribution to capital by 10% to reduce debt financing
  • Budget addresses the adverse impact of the recession and will bemonitored

The budget process traditionally carries forward ongoing activities with little comment, and focuses on changes and highlighted priorities. Presentation is also naturally focussed on political considerations.

Notes from the verbal presentation:

The presenters wanted to emphasize the city's constructive role. To do so they highliqhted a new toronto.ca website section: http://www.toronto.ca/torontohelps. User fees will increase, but only to an inflation adjusted level, according to the presentation. The average property tax increase amounts to 25 cents per day, an amount that was repeated for effect many times by the presenters, including the Mayor. Commitment to public space was highlighted by a number of relatively small projects, including plans to add a playground to Campbell Park. Details of Libraries as a public resource were reviewed. Programs to defer or forgive rate increases for the disadvantaged were highlighted.

As well as financial perspectives, a mandate for performance management was reviewed, including a promise for an April performance review. This review would include efficiency and community outcomes measures, and what they call best practices and benchmarking.

Increases in Parks and Recreation spending were explained by new services and parks.

Presenters promised ongoing review of programs, search for savings, green program development, and improvements in public accessibility to city hall (beginning with a new, small, public accessibility office).

Reflection

The presentations did not include an analysis of staffing levels that we could find.

We noted the absence of evaluation and review of fundamentals. For example organizational structure, collaboration, and control issues were not reviewed. The presentations implied a high degree of centralization, something which was an important effect of amalgamation. The effect of recent centralization on budget effectiveness was not addressed. Although some intention of performance review was mentioned, the programs described seemed oriented very much to the macro level.


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