Toronto’s $292M surplus allocated to TTC, reserves
Published 34 minutes ago
Paul Moloney Urban Affairs Reporter
Efforts to use $1.7 million from a city windfall to save programs ranging from High Park Zoo to dentures for seniors have failed.
Instead, council’s budget committee voted on Monday to stick with the plan recommended by city staff to earmark most of the $292 million, year-end surplus to buy streetcars, with $52 million going to boost city reserve funds.
One of the moves was to put $6.5 million into the sick pay gratuity, a perk that retiring police officers up to nine months’ pay if they bank unused sick days.
“I think the optics of it are not good, and I recognize that the optics are not good,” said Councillor Mike Del Grande, the budget committee chair.
However, Del Grande said there was nothing his committee could do about the sick bank gratuity because the police collective agreement is negotiated by the police services board.
“That budget comes to the city and it’s pay or else,” Del Grande said. “People mistakenly think we’re in charge of that particular budget.”
Meanwhile, police board chair Alok Mukherjee told reporters at city hall that he needs the provincial government’s help to reform the sick pay gratuity.
“We do have to find better ways to manage benefits,” Mukherjee said. “My fellow board members share the concern, the province shares the concern, so there has to be a systemic response that has to be province-wide.”
The committee voted down a number of proposals tabled by Councillor James Pasternak to restore items cut when the city’s operating budget was set in January.
But Pasternak failed to gain committee support to spend:
$450,000 for the Hardship Fund, which helps the poor pay for essential medical items.
$200,000 to pay half the denture lab costs for low-income seniors.
$787,000 to retain 16 youth outreach workers this year that the city plans to lay off.
$50,000 for High Park Zoo to augment private fundraising.
$110,600 to continue operating Centre Island’s Far Enough Farm, due to close June 30.
$110,000 for new sports equipment ($2,500 for each of the city’s 44 wards).
The committee did back spending $180,000 to fight bedbugs, but on condition the province provide $500,000.
The committee also refused to cancel new garbage pickup fees charged to charities that have enjoyed free pickup. When fully implemented, the new fees will give the city an extra $2 million to $2.5 million a year.
After his suggestions were voted down, Pasternak told reporters he expects council will debate the items before any final decision is made.
The surplus, representing money left over in departmental budgets at the end of 2011, had been earlier estimated at $154 million. But the final figure came in at $292 million, thanks to a combination of higher revenues and lower costs than expected.
It’s only natural that councillors would want to look at spending some of the money to save needed programs, Pasternak said.
“That surplus was much larger than anticipated and it should be no surprise to anyone that we would resuscitate the programs that we were told to cancel,” he said.
In retrospect, council may have cut too deeply in January, before the final surplus — disclosed publicly late last month — was known, he added.
“At times, we (councillors) felt we were amputating before we really did the diagnosis,” Pasternak added. “There was a belief that we had a very strong surplus that could preserve a lot of programs.”
The committee meeting was attended by police board chair Alok Mukherjee, who told reporters that the police union, the Toronto Police Association, fought to hang on to the sick-pay perk.
In the latest four-year police contract, which was settled shortly after Mayor Rob Ford took office, the maximum payout was cut to six months from nine months, but only for new hires. The existing 5,300 uniformed officers and 2,000 civilian employees keep their sick-pay rights.
Sick-bank payouts to officers when they retire have been averaging $10.7 million a year over the past five years. The sick-pay fund had $12.4 million in it at the end of 2011 and the committee recommended adding $6.5 million to boost it to $18.9 million.
“We have recognized that this has been a problem for quite some time, and we attempted to respond,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, the police board’s vice-chair.
“We were able to make a small dent. We weren’t able to deal with it in the fashion that we had hoped.”