Not much gravy flows through City Hall, after all.
Last week, City of Toronto officials and its private consultants at KPMG began releasing the first of several reports reviewing the city’s operations in order to determine which services they could cut, if necessary.
This whole review process was really kick-started during Mayor Rob Ford election campaign, whence he promised to end the “gravy train” at City Hall. The KPMG report, however, tends to confirm that more than 90 percent of the services the city provides are not even remotely gravy.
KPMG has so far released four of its core service review reports, detailing services that each committee of council reviews. They determined whether programs were “core”—meaning either that senior levels of government require the city to provide the service or that the service is essential to the well-being of the residents. They also compared the level of the service that the city provides with similar services in Montreal, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Melbourne and Barcelona and examined the governments of Canada, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan to determine whether Toronto services were above, at, or below standard practice.
Here are some highlights from each of the reports released so far along with some comments.
Public Works and Infrastructure Committee
+ Contracting private suppliers to collect more of Toronto’s garbage, pick up grass clippings and provide mapping and survey services.
+ Eliminating environment days in each ward. (City staff propose cutting these each year at budget time, but councilors always support funding them because the allow the community to see their local rep working to improve the environment).
+ Reducing the city’s target for diverting waste from landfill.
+ Revising how and how often city staff sweep streets and plow snow.
+ Collecting fees from the organizers of all street events to fully recover costs.
+ Reducing the amount of bicycle infrastructure.
+ No longer adding fluoride to the city’s water supply.
Fully 96 percent of the services that the Public Works Committee oversees are essential, KPMG says. That means that staff and politicians have few areas in which they can cut so easily. If the city eliminated or reduced the other four percent, it would save just $10 to 15 million from an annual budget of more than $1 billion.
Economic Development and Culture Committee
+ Eliminating services that help certain sectors of Toronto business, including the film industry, support small business owners and help retain businesses in the city.
+ Eliminating services that support the arts and cultural life of the city, including heritage sites, museums, art galleries, exhibits, special events.
+ Reducing services to business improvement areas.
+ Contracting private suppliers to provide more of the current city services that support job seekers.
+ Eliminating some services that support low-income families, disabled people and the elderly.
KPMG again found that 96 percent of the services within the scope of the Economic Development Committee—which also includes the culture and social services portfolios—were also core. If the city chose to reduce non-essential services in this area, or to no longer provide a higher-than standard level of service, it could save about $46 million annually from a total budget of about $1.2 billion.
Community Development and Recreation Committee
+ Transferring city-owned child-care services to private operators.
+ Eliminating or reducing municipal funding to subsidize some child care services.
+ Integrating Fire Services and Emergency Medical Services.
+ Contracting with private operators services to transfer patients to hospitals.
+ Selling long-term care homes.
+ Contracting community organizations to operate some or all recreation centres.
+ Giving homeless people higher priority in accessing social housing.
The Community Development and Recreation Committee controls how the city spends money on a wide range of programs, including child care, homes for the aged, fire and emergency services. Removing its non-mandatory programs and reducing above-standard services could reduce the City’s budget by about $148 million. Still that means as much as 87 percent of this group’s budget is not even remotely gravy.
Parks and Environment Committee
+ Contracting with private suppliers or with community groups to maintain parks.
+ Eliminating zoos and farms on Toronto Island and at Riverdale and High Parks.
+ Reducing standards for clearing snow and cutting grass in parks.
+ Eliminating horticultural services to maintain flower beds in city parks and other city-owned property.
+ Eliminating the Environment Office.
According to KPMG, this is where the biggest gains are to be had potentially, just 83 percent of its services deemed as core. Cutting these programs could save about $21 million of a total of $175 million.
KPMG will release its reports on the services of the Licensing and Standards Committee and the Government Management Committee this week, while the first four committees meet to consider their reports. Next week, KPMG will provide details of services that the Executive Committee reviews—that will likely look at many of the grants to various cultural, social services and other groups that the City provides.
Final decisions on all cuts will be made during city council’s September meeting.
The City’s contract with KPMG is worth about $300,000.