Pedestrians walk south on Yonge at Dundas as a TTC Bus waits for the light on the 97B route.
RENE JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR
What a difference 24 hours make.
In a budgetary Houdini act on Tuesday, the city called off a 10-cent TTC fare hike that had been threatened only a day earlier. And police chief Bill Blair decided, with the apparent approval of Mayor Rob Ford, to cut his budget by delaying the hiring of 200 to 220 officers.
Ford promised during the campaign to boost the police force by 50 officers this year. But he later abandoned the pledge, and police board chair Alok Mukherjee said he believed Ford was on board with Blair’s money-saving but force-shrinking plan.
The new police budget request of $905.9 million, approved by the board Tuesday afternoon, is $9 million smaller than the one with which Ford had publicly expressed unhappiness on Monday. Of the savings, $7.6 million comes from deferring the replacement of all officers and civilian employees who leave the service this year.
The rapid reversal on the TTC fare hike was mysterious given that neither city staff nor the mayor’s office would provide details Tuesday on where the money needed to balance the budget without the hike would be found.
City managers have promised to find $16 million toward the $24 million the TTC would have raised by increasing token and pass prices. The TTC is supposed to come up with a further $8 million in efficiencies and fare revenue.
“The mayor’s very happy there will not be a 10-cent fare hike for TTC riders,” said Ford spokesperson Adrienne Batra, who dismissed suggestions that the fare hike was revealed and then abandoned to make the mayor look good. She said: “It’s really unfortunate that certain councillors are suggesting that.”
After the announcement, Councillor Josh Matlow wrote on Twitter: “I’m delighted TTC fares won’t be hiked. But how did the city manager (find) $16 million in 30 hours? Now that’s magical gravy.” In an interview, he added: “It makes no sense to the people down here.”
In the past, Ford has been critical of such surprise turn-arounds. Last March, when then-mayor David Miller announced an unexpected $100 million budget surplus, Ford said it was evidence of either “corruption” or “major incompetence.” “He made the media look like fools and he made everyone else that followed his little game look like fools,” Ford said then.
The TTC, chair Karen Stintz said Tuesday, would look for further efficiencies and increased ridership to supply its portion of the savings. A day earlier, Stintz had blamed growing ridership for the fare increase, as the transit system collects only about $2 per ride but spends $3 to provide it.
Blair said there would not be fewer officers on the street until late this year or 2012, since two classes of recruits are to join the service by May. He assured the board that he would find a way to ensure the reduction would “not in any way” compromise the safety of officers or citizens.
The police service must remain close to its official officer complement of 5,618. But it can dip more than slightly below, Mukherjee said, if the chief can demonstrate that a staffing reduction would not cause danger.
“(Blair) was very clear that he was not going to compromise public safety,” Mukherjee said in an interview. “We will have to figure out how we will make sure that there is adequate deployment of officers on the front line.”
The police budget is notoriously difficult to cut because about 90 per cent of it is composed of wages and benefits. But Ford had urged Blair to find further “efficiencies” at a Monday news conference in which he declined to express support for the chief.
The two met later in the day and emerged brimming with mutual praise; Blair hinted Tuesday that Ford had signed off on his plan during their conversation. “I’m quite hopeful that we were been able to address the concerns that were expressed,” he said.
Police union president Mike McCormack, speaking in measured tones, said he was “not about to fly off the handle” at the proposal. He said he would sit down with Blair to learn about the implications of the deferrals before issuing an opinion. “We need to understand what it means,” he said.
Left-leaning former members of the police board said the deferrals would indeed harm residents. “Ford promised no cuts to police,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, “and now he’s forcing them down their throat. It’s a huge cut. There’s no other way to look at it.”
Said Councillor Pam McConnell: “I’m surprised the chief of police would offer up 250 of his officers when he fought so hard to get 250 officers five years ago,” when the complement was increased after a spate of homicides in the inner suburbs.
“He wanted to get his people out into the neighbourhoods. These cuts will be cuts from the neighbourhoods.”
With files from David Rider
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