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Hundreds speak out at city executive committee meeting

Mayor Rob Ford speaks to reporters on March 2, 2011. CITYNEWS

Hundreds of people – professionals, the heads of youth programs, arts foundations and companies, among others  – showed up at city hall Monday to address controversial cuts proposed for next year’s city budget.
 
More than 360 people registered to speak at the executive committee meeting. Each speaker will have two minutes to make their statement, and councillors get a minute for questions and answers. As of Monday night at around midnight, the committee had heard from 236 speakers.

In July, a similar marathon session saw 169 people voice their opinions on a series of KPMG reports that highlighted wide-ranging opportunities to cut back programs and services.

Mayor Rob Ford, who chairs the executive committee, said he’s willing to sit in the meeting room “all day, all night, all day and all night” to hear what every one of the 361 deputants have to say about city manager Joe Pennachetti’s recommendations to plug the city’s $774-million shortfall in the 2012 operating budget.

Many of the mayor’s allies sit on the executive committee, including councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Mike Del Grande and Doug Holyday.

Watch Del Grande and Coun. Gord Perks face-off here.

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The mayor who was flanked by many of his committee members, at a lunch break news conference, said that after the public has had its say the executive committee will debate the proposals and “exec [members] will vote the way they wish.”

The executive committee’s recommendations will go before city council on Sept. 26.

In his opening remarks, Ford said, “Our expenses grow at a rate much faster than our revenues.”

“We have never addressed the root cause [of the budget gap] … We may think that it’s hard to fix this year, and it is. But folks, if we don’t do it this year, it will only get worse next year and the year after and the year after.”

At the top of the meeting, Ford addressed the recommendation that has sparked the most outrage — closing library branches.

“I’m not interested in closing libraries,” Ford said.

But he said a reduction in operating hours should be considered to lower costs.

The mayor also said street cleaning and snow removal are core functions the city must deliver well.

 Another controversial proposal — reducing subsidized childcare spaces — was also addressed by the mayor. He said the city needs help delivering affordable care, and he has asked the provincial government for help.

“I believe we need to expand the number of affordable childcare spaces in our city, but this is not something we can afford to do on our own,” Ford said.

“If we are forced to make changes we must do this in a way that does not hurt families who already depend on us for support.”

Some highlights of the deputations on Monday:

•   Several deputants during Monday’s meeting spoke out about proposed cuts to subsidized childcare, including three young single mothers who said they wouldn’t be able to attend school without the help.
•   Resident Wendy Duff talked about how important the library was to her when she was growing up with a single mom parenting 10 children.  She said her library was a refuge for her, providing her a place to study and do her homework. It refined her reading taste and excited her imagination, she said. Now a University of Toronto professor, Duff said the city shouldn’t close any of its 98 branches or reduce library hours.
•   David Owen, a 66-year-old resident of Toronto’s east end, said his grandson couldn’t have had $6,000 worth of dental work done without the dental health program offered by Toronto Public Health. He urged the city not to go down that road of eliminating the program or reducing its services.
•   Bay Street lawyer Dan Donnelly urged the committee not to impact funding for Dixon Hall, an agency for the homeless that he formerly chaired.   
•   Several paramedics, including Marty  Holdenried and Mike Wilson, said they were against a potential merger of Toronto Fire and EMS services.  Paramedics are the only ones with the proper medical training to help people, a service that other first responders cannot provide, Wilson said.
•   FoodShare executive director Debbie Field said two of its programs would be cut if the recommendations are accepted.
•   Bill Johnston, president of the Toronto Real Estate Board, told the committee the land transfer tax is unfair and shouldn’t be charged to home buyers.
•   CivicAction chief executive Julia Deans told the committee it has tough choices to make and urged it to carefully analyze its options, adding Toronto must offer attractive jobs and affordable transportation.

Last Monday the city manager unveiled a report that proposed, among other things, cutting about 2,000 subsidized childcare spaces, closing some library branches and selling off city-run theatres that would save Toronto an estimated $100 million next year.

His report also recommended closing museums with the lowest attendance, reducing snow clearing and scrapping the four free garbage tags program. Reducing the size of the Toronto Police force, selling off or closing city-run zoos and eliminating a dental program for the poor are among some other suggestions.

The recommendations on reviewing subsidized daycare funding and the potential sale or outsourcing of long-term care homes for the elderly have been referred back to the city manager for more studying.

Pennachetti based his recommendations on a core services review released by city consultant KPMG earlier this summer.

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