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Transit, child care on minds of many at budget committee meeting

Subsidized child care and the cost of transit expansion were on the minds of many at Monday’s budget committee meeting as councillors heard from the public about the 2014 capital and operating budgets.

Bola Otarali, a mother of a seven-year-old daughter, told of the hardships in securing daycare for her child and urged the city to provide more child-care programs.

She currently needs transportation to and from day care and wants an after-school daycare inside her daughter’s school, Beverly Glen Public School.

Click here for the agenda and click here to watch the meeting.

Jane Mercer of the Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care told the committee that the city will be receiving $20 million a year from the province for child care funding beginning next year and “With the increase, you can now act.”

She also urged the city to restore the wage-subsidy payments and increase subsidized day care spaces by 528.

Other speakers invited to give their input about $9.6 billion operating budget and $18.6 billion capital budget included the head of Toronto Region Board of Trade, the Toronto Real Estate Board and members of arts groups and neighbourhood centres.

TRBT president and CEO Carol Wilding told the committee there were three issues in the budget that concerned her group:

• Council’s decision to pursue the Scarborough subway at the expense of a fully-funded and approved light-rail transit line raises fiscal challenges. The cancellation fee is approaching $100-million and there’s the additional need of about $900-million to build the line, which takes capital dollars away from the state of good repair backlog, now approaching $2.5-billion.

• There remain challenges in addressing labour costs, particularly police services.

• The two-year fiscal outlook provided by city staff does not provide the same budget and financial rigour as a five-year plan.

Former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson and Mackenzie Keast , both of the Toronto Transit Alliance, called on council to move forward with recommended funding tools for transit expansion, including the Scarborough subway.

“Toronto doesn’t have time to wait for other levels of government to bail us out,” insisted Thomson. “Without dedicated transit funding in place the bill for transit expansion will fall on tax payers.”

“This budget is a laugh in the face of every person who walks through those turnstiles,” added Keast pointing out that even though more riders are expected on the TTC next year, per rider subsidies have dropped.

“The ridership is there. It’s not going away. It’s increasing every day,” he said.

On Nov. 20 the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) approved a five-cent hike in tokens and a $5.25 bump in the price of an adult Metropass effective Jan 1, 2014, which had many voicing that they were already paying too much in transit.

Kara Santokie with the Toronto Women’s City Alliance pointed out that in the majority of wards across the city, metropass holders are women and that many of those women come from low-income households, making the meteropass increase particularly hard on them.

Her message was echoed by Fatima Piquea, a senior living in a TCHC building.

“Every day I have to decide if we can afford to pay the transit fare when we go out,” she stated.

Piquea said that other seniors living in her area are largely house-bound because of the limitations of transit – the ability to get on the streetcar with walkers, having to wait 20 to 30 minutes for a streetcar and affordability on a fixed budget.

Jessica Bell with the group TTC Riders requested that the city increase subsidies to at least back to 2010 levels, stating that she feels the burden of paying for transit falls too much on the riders – especially the city’s poor who rely on the TTC as their only source of transportation.

A number of employees and avid users of the Toronto Public Library also appeared in front of council to ask them to invest in the service which has faced extensive cuts in recent years.

“How many people have had their lives changed forever because what they have found in the public library?” asked employee Brendan Haynes.

Miroslav Glavic, whose parents immigrated to Canada, stressed the importance of the library to new Canadians to help them learn English and write resumes.

“You can’t get a job and support your family if you can’t speak the language,” he said. “I think the biggest crime you can do is shut down a library. I think it’s one of these best services.”

Volunteers and program coordinators from schools across the GTA also requested more funding for school breakfast programs – including Jennifer Mahon from Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where mayor Rob Ford coached the football team for several years.

Debbie Field, executive director of Food Share Toronto, spoke about the stigma she felt as a young girl having to eat in the “poor” cafeteria because she was a part of the hot meal program at her school and how the breakfast program offered now helps minimize any feelings of inadequacy young children may feel now.

Other speakers included:

• A representative from the Toronto Real Estate Board who argued the municipal land transfer tax should be cut as it’s a hindrance to home ownership.

• The CUPE Local 79 head wants job vacancies filled, arguing staff reductions lead to fewer city services.

• Catherine Parsonage of Toronto Foundation for Student Success, whose nutrition programs serve 147,000 children in the city, urges the committee to approve this year’s funding.

Last week, city staff said the $9.6-billion operating budget is starting with a spending pressure of more than $200 million and an additional $43 million due to the provincial funding cuts that affect the city’s housing programs.

So city staff recommended a residential property tax hike of 2.5 per cent, which works out to about an extra $64 per household.

That would cover existing programs and services, as well as the Scarborough subway and $14 million in new services.

The new and enhanced services next year include $4 million in additional funding for the TTC, $3.1 million for 56 new paramedics and $4 million to support the arts.

Mayor Rob Ford said he wouldn’t support the 2014 budget because it was more than the 1.75-per-cent hike he was promising. And it doesn’t include his promise of a 10-per-cent cut in the municipal land transfer tax.

The difference between the two proposed taxes is about $18 million and Ford has argued that staff should be able to find those savings.

The meeting will continue on Tuesday.