The City budget process can seem overwhelming and intimidating – it’s full of jargon and residents have a small window for having a direct say in the process. So, here’s our guide to make it as easy as possible for you to get your voice heard, and to make the budget work for you. This guide was prepared by WiTOpoli members and municipal politics experts Claire McWatt (follow her on Twitter!) and Neville Park (follow her on Twitter! or check out her website! or even better, crowd-fund her work to make politics more accessible!).
I dunno from budgets – where do I start?
First things first, check out this amazing WiTOPoli Budget Primer document. It’s got a handy glossary to help you navigate the sea of budget-speak, and breaks down data from the 2014 budget (as taken from the City Manager’s 2014 budget presentation and the 2014 budget outline).
In it, you’ll find information like this, presented in an accessible, easy-to-understand way.
Okay, I’m ready! Where is it?
The budget will be launched online on the city website at toronto.ca. The City Manager’s presentation will serve as a good overview read, but make sure to keep the glossary page handy! Beware of short forms like “SOGR” (which means State of Good Repair). The Acronym and Abbreviation page is a good resource to help you with this.
What should I know about the City Manager’s presentation?
It’s important to remember that this is a very political presentation, and it should be read critically. The City Manager seeks to ‘sell’ the Budget as it is, and as a result, there is a lot of ‘good news’, and positive content. The same can be said for the Budget Outline (at-a-glance). The goal is to make readers feel their money is being effectively spent, and their tax rate is competitive. Consider in detail points like a constantly falling crime rate, while the Police Budget remains the top expenditure.
I’m ready to go deeper – now what?
If you feel confident, read the background file. There are backgrounders and detailed budget breakdowns for every department, from Community Development and Recreation, to Public Works and Infrastructure. This is where you may find something that has slipped by the attention of the media. Find a department you are most interested in, and focus from there.
How can I let Council know if I see something I don’t like?
Remember, the budget is NOT FINAL. Changes can be made by the Budget Committee, the Executive Committee, and by City Council. You can have a say, too – make a public deputation (pssst, we have a guide for that here), send a written one in for consideration, email your councillor, start a petition … (pro-tip: just make sure in your petitions you collect postal codes, so pressure can be put on individual councillors, as they can see their constituents specifically care for this issue).
Above all, remember that Budget belongs to Council and, by extension, you. It’s yours to discover! Holler at us in the comments if you want help!