Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
The ancient Mayan calendar anticipated the world will end next year.
The Mayans were gifted astronomers and were guided by the sun, the moon and the stars. But is it possible that their predictions were also based on prior knowledge of Toronto’s fiscal situation?
Like a street preacher wearing a sandwich board painted with the words “Doomsday is coming,” council’s budget chair, Mike Del Grande, has been walking the corridors of City Hall talking about the impending rapture with anyone who will listen to him.
And he has reason to worry. Toronto faces a massive $784 million shortfall projected for its 2012 budget. To balance it, the city will be forced to cut services and struggle to find new sources of revenue.
And without offering him extra staff or resources, the mayor has tasked Del Grande with what seems like a mission impossible. During last year’s municipal election, Rob Ford promised he’d lower taxes and stop the gravy train — all without cutting any city services, “guaranteed.” Now, unless the mayor and Del Grande pull off a miracle, this budget chair may unfairly, but forever, be identified as the man who couldn’t save Toronto from the approaching apocalypse (assuming there’s anyone left around to remember).
But I have some faith in Del Grande’s abilities and don’t honestly believe society as we know it will come to an end next year. But it very well may look different than what we’re used to. The buses will continue to run, but not as often. We’ll still have community centres, but they’ll be more expensive to access. Our roads will be repaired, but not as quickly. Some services may disappear completely.
To avoid this scenario, I wonder if most Torontonians are willing to pay higher user fees or taxes? Should we consider other options such as the controversial subject of introducing road tolls for 905ers, who are essentially subsidized by Toronto’s property taxpayers when using our infrastructure?
If Mr. Ford was wrong about his gravy prophecies, something will surely have to give.
To hear from residents about what services are important to them, city manager Joe Pennachetti has posted a survey page called “Toronto Service Review” on the City of Toronto’s website, www.toronto.ca. Meanwhile, the mayor has hired private consultants to advise him on ways to recalibrate how services, and what services, should be provided by the public purse and what should be outsourced to the private sector. There already seems to be some movement toward outsourcing — even the online survey was made in the U.S. and the information it collects is stored for a year in Ireland.
Along with astronomy, the Mayans were talented mathematicians and probably would have known how to balance a budget. After all, they did independently create the number “zero.” They might have suggested City Hall find a reasonable mix of surgically precise cuts (sans human sacrifice) and creative new revenue tools, and have the willingness to do things differently than they’ve been done before.
Most reasonable people don’t believe the world will end in 2012.
That’s just crazy talk. But didn’t many people say only a year ago that Rob Ford would never be mayor?
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s
To read this column at thestar.com, please click here.