Standing in Solidarity: Proposed City Budget Threatens Our City’s Most Vulnerable

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 The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick and the needy. (Hubert Humphrey)

FACT:  Upon being elected, Mayor Ford got rid of the city’s $60 Vehicle Registration Tax – a fee which went directly to pay for desperately needed transportation infrastructure – costing the city about $64M in lost revenue.

Torontonians were told this would put money back in our pockets.

FACT:  The budget includes a 2.5% residential property tax and 0.83% non-residential property tax increases projected to provide the city with $57M in revenue.

FACT:  The proposed budget includes across the board increases in existing user fees, including entrance fees to our city’s museums, indoor rink use, early child programs and adult classes, city camps, ferry service to the Toronto islands, building and inspection permits, and rental rate for meeting spaces in our public libraries.   To take an example, rental rates for meeting spaces in libraries for non-profit groups went up by 24% for meeting rooms, 23% for auditoriums and 56% for theatres – local community spaces to gather.    From my own review it would seem that the only existing user fee being decreased is admission to the Toronto Zoo during off-peak hours.   At the same time, the High Park Zoo and Far Enough Farm on Toronto Island – both used by families across our city – will be closed under the proposed budget.

FACT:  The proposed 2012 budget includes service ‘adjustments’ (aka service reductions) account for $88M in total annual savings.

Because the proposed ‘service adjustments’ account for roughly only 1% of the city’s $9.355B annual operating budget there may be a tendency to overlook them; however, the across the board ‘adjustments’ jeopardize organizations that work to help our neighbours in need, add a heavy burden to our city’s most vulnerable, and reduce the overall health and well-being of our great city.

So, what’s in the proposed budget?

Commercial Garbage Fees for Non-Profit Groups:  the impact to a local mission

For 25 years, St. John the Compassionate Mission at Broadview and Woodbine has provided meals, shelter and social services to those in need.  However, a new city policy on garbage fees will mean that all non-residential tenants including retirement homes, places of worship, charitable organizations and libraries will, in four years time, pay the full commercial rate of $806 a year per bin for weekly garbage pickup (a$2.9 million savings to the city).

This will cost the Mission $30,000 a year, putting its meal program in jeopardy.  As Fr. Roberto Ubertino, the Executive Director, told The Town Crier, “We simply cannot afford it,” he said. “We have to choose, do we feed people, or do we pay for the garbage … That’s what it’s come to.”  As Fr. Umbertino points out, the Mission is providing essential services — food, shelter, and social services — at no cost to the city; but as it stands exemptions to this policy for organizations that provide a social service to our city’s poor are not being considered.

Reduction in Community Services

  • Reduction or elimination of daytime hours for some arenas (negatively impacting our students who rely on City run skating rinks for school skating programs)
  • Elimination of free recreation programs for children and youth in priority neighbourhoods
  • Reduction in library hours across the city – impacting many in the community
  • Closure of swimming pools and wading pools, as well as the addition of user fees for the use of swimming pools.

The reductions and closures that are being considered will impact all of our students in some way since families rely on these services to provide affordable arts and recreational programs for their children during school, after school and on weekends.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.  (Dr. Seuss)

Cuts to Non-Profit Child Care Centres

The TCDSB receives approximately $740,000 from the City to support the operating costs associated with the leases for daycare centres. Cuts in City support will have to be made-up by the child care centres by either increasing their rates which may become an affordability issue for some of our families or by shutting down.  The proposed cuts impact child care centres in about 50 schools supporting just under 1,000 students.

Elimination of the City’s Hardship Fund

The Hardship Fund supplies emergency medical aid to the poorest among us – mostly seniors – who do not receive social assist­ance, but who have very low or precarious incomes. Last year, the fund was the last resort for over 1,300 people.  The Fund meets the needs of residents where the cost of medical items would cause undue financial hardship – including vision care, emergency dental care, reimbursement of prescription drug costs, and funeral costs.

The Fund’s emergency intervention frequently keeps seniors out of hospital where the cost of care runs up to $1000 per day.   So, in addition to being the right thing to do there is also a fiscal argument for keeping the Hardship Fund.

The Hardship Fund costs the city about $900,000 annually.

Elimination of the City’s Christmas Bureau

Part of Toronto Employment and Social Services commitment, the Christmas Bureau has helped Torontonians in need since 1956 connect with the appropriate organizations that can support them around the holidays.   The bureau organizes the complicated logistics of Christmas giving by working with hundreds of organizations, including the Toronto Star, CP24 CHUM Christmas Wish and the Toronto Fire Fighters Association.

The bureau directs people, via a hotline, to places where they can get support while ensuring their information remains confidential.  In 2010, the Christmas Bureau and its partners distributed gifts to 138,880 children and families in Toronto, according to the city’s proposed budget for 2012.

The Christmas Bureau cost the city $151,400 in 2011.

There Are Options

The Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based non-profit and non-partisan research and policy institute, carried out a Health Equity Impact Assessment of three key policy and program changes proposed by the city:

  • reducing child care funding and subsidies
  • eliminating the Hardship Fund, and
  • limiting the development of affordable housing to completing only what has already been approved and funded.

Their assessment concludes that “the proposed reductions will have a disproportionate impact on already vulnerable groups.  If the city pursues the proposed cuts, the current and future health of many vulnerable Torontonians will be compromised, and Toronto will become a more unequal city.”

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew: 40)

Standing In Solidarity with Our Neighbours

For Catholics, our faith demands that we support the promotion of the common good – the creation of an equitable society.   As Blessed Pope John Paul II stated in his encyclical ‘On Social Concern,

“Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far.  On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. The exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons.  Solidarity helps us to see the “other” not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbour” to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”

What Can We Do?  Let Our Opposition be Known – Contact Your City Councillor TODAY!

Toronto City Council will review and approve the final 2012 Operating Budget and 2012-2021 Capital Budget and Plan at the Council meetings taking place on January 17 – 19.

Contact information for city councillors in TCDSB Ward 9 – City Wards 19, 20, 21, 22,  27, 28 – can be found here on my site. 

The TCDSB has developed a letter for parents which can be sent to your City Councillor letting them know we are against the city’s proposed cuts.

You can sign on-line petitions at Toronto Together that go directly to your City Councillor (when you provide your postal code), letting them know that we want to save our public services.

It’s our city.  It’s our community.   It’s our collective responsibility.  Speak out – share!

 

1 Comment

  1. Jo-Ann, while I applaud your strident Catholicism, quoting of scripture and JP II, not to mention Dr. Seuss, this Catholic is not convinced that pouring money into the debt-ridden bureaucratic sinkhole that is Toronto City Hall, is the Catholic thing to do. I can just as easily argue that the economic and social hardship inflicted on the broader community due to wasteful, out-of-control government spending, should be of great concern to all Catholics.
    This government has a serious debt-crisis and spending problem. Surely finding 1% in efficiencies in a $9.35 billion budget, is not unreasonable. Frankly I resent the implication that imposed government largesse is somehow the ipso facto Christian response to Matthew:40. I I do support the service adjustments and will advise my councillor accordingly. A free and charitable society can only endure so much government.

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