Spending smart at City Hall
|Justin Van Dette.|
It’s budget season again and obviously we’re going to be hearing a bit of the recycled excuses on why the budget is so challenging. We’ll be hearing the blame game, about who did what many years ago, and why the city can't cut anymore. Personally I'm getting a little tired of the words "previous administration" that we hear from time to time especially when the current ones at City Hall and Queen’s Park have been in power since 2003.
What amazed me is how all of a sudden all of this new money – about $100 million taxpayer dollars - was found in an almost "hocus pocus" magical way -- almost the kind of thing you would read about in a fairy-tale. Toronto Star columnist Royson James called it “political theatre” and it was simply just that.
I agree with Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman who added that these kinds of “tricks are for kids.”
We hear it over and over again from many inside the twin towers at the corner of Bay and Queen; how difficult it is to find any savings. We’re reminded that the City isn’t running a deficit but what we are running is a “structural deficit” which involves the spending of precious dollars that we simply don't have and looking to the taxpayer and asking them to pay more and fund more pet projects.
Many of these tax increases year after year have been above the rate of inflation, and as the famous John Smith recently told the Budget Committee, the tax increases are taking their toll on taxpayers who simply can't afford to pay more.
Some have talked about a “hiring freeze” but we still have job postings on the City website. Not much of a freeze that I can see.
Non-unionized employees are told to take a freeze but the elected council and unionized staff are getting wage increases. No fairness or demonstration of fiscal restraint there. In fact, when council had a motion from Councillor Case Ootes calling for a freeze last year, which would have demonstrated strong, symbolic leadership before going into important negotiations with the city’s unions, council chose not to take that position.
The bicycle lane budget is another area that I would revisit and think twice about devoting all those dollars. Did those approved and expensive changes on Jarvis really need to happen especially since the next arterial road to the east, Sherbourne, already has a bicycle lane. The amount of spending has me concerned. And of course we heard just this week that a movement is afoot to bring a 24 km bikeway on Bloor-Danforth.
To me, it’s all over-spending, especially when we don’t have two nickels to rub together and when the city has next to nothing in the reserves to deal with increased unemployment and welfare claimants.
I would rather see those funds allocated for the city’s bicycle plan directed to the backlog of road and sewer repairs that we have in our city, and apparently the backlog amounts to multimillions of dollars. Too bad we can’t go back and revisit the bicycle racks that were installed on all of those buses. I ride transit every single day, and being brutally honest, I think I’ve only seen three or four bikes on those racks since they first got installed.
Some reading this might think that I’m anti-bicycle, which I’m not. To me, it all comes down to investing in core and very important municipal services. The comedian at the recent Ireland Fund Lunch talked about how the Mayor cleaned his office and found $100 million. Seriously though, it makes me wonder how many more savings can be found at City Hall.