The WiTOPoli Guide to the #TOBudget

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.

Two Types of Budgets

Okay, I’m ready! Where is it?

The budget will be launched online at www.toronto.ca/budget2015. 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). You can also attend one of these public meetings to make your voice heard…

Budget Town Halls by Councillors

Wards 11 and 12 – Francis Nunziata and Frank Di Giorgio

February 9th, 7PM, York Civic Centre

 

Wards 13 and 14 – Sarah Doucette and Gord Perks

January 29th, 7PM, Bishop Morocco

 

Ward 18 – Ana Bailao

Feb 21st, 1-3PM, Bloor-Gladstone Library

 

Ward 19 – Mike Layton

January 21st, 6:30PM, Trinity Community Centre

 

Ward 31 – Janet Davis

February 9th, 7PM, Council Chambers, East York Civic Centre

 

Ward 33 – Shelley Carroll

February 18th, 6:30PM, Fairview Library

Ward 20 – Joe Cressy

February 23rd,  7:00PM, City Hall, Committee Room 2

Ward 22 – Josh Matlow
March 3rd, 7PM, North Toronto Memorial Community Centre

Ward 27 – Kristyn Wong-Tam
January 31st, 1:00-3:00PM + Participatory Budgeting Workshop from 3:00-4:00PM, 519 Community Centre

This is a working list, compiled as a result of emailing all Councillor’s accounts, and offering them the opportunity to respond. Please feel free to contact us with details about your budget town hall at womentopolitics at gmail dot com.

Social Planning Toronto is also hosting a series of Budget Forums that you can read about here.

The schedule for the full process is:

Budget Schedule

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!

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Ask Your Candidate: Arts Funding

By: Lauren Simmons

The arts are integral to the fabric of a modern city like Toronto. Statistically, the arts employ more women than they do men, but Toronto lags woefully behind most major cities in its per-capita arts funding (by 2017 it will finally reach $25/capita, a figure first set in 2002, and which is still less than half that in cities like Montreal). Budget support for the arts has consistently been under attack in the last four years at City Council, most recently with a planned increase in funding being pushed back to as late as 2017. When you ask the candidates in your ward how they plan to support the arts, you’re also asking how they’ll support the important cultural contributions of some of our city’s most precariously employed citizens

1. Do you support privatized arts funding?

During Rob Ford’s tenure as Mayor, much of the city’s arts community has lived in fear of Council’s overwhelming support for privatized arts funding, which benefits large, highly visible and commercially viable endeavours (e.g. the Toronto International Film Festival), at the expense of smaller, more cutting-edge projects. Where do your candidates stand on privatized funding? Are financial benefits like tourist dollars a necessary condition for your candidates’ support of the arts, or do they have other reasons for doing so?

2. Where do you stand on the Beautiful City initiative?

In January 2013, Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee approved a budget that included restored funding in some areas, including funneling $6 million of billboard tax profits into programs for the arts. However, as recently as the last budget cycle, council pushed those increases back to 2017. Will your candidates support the existing practice of using the billboard tax for increased arts funding? User fees like water rates and TTC fares have increased beyond the rate of inflation in recent years but the billboard tax has been frozen. If your candidates are arts-friendly, they may support increasing the billboard tax by at least the rate of inflation retroactive to its introduction in 2009 so arts funding in real, inflation-adjusted dollars doesn’t decrease.

3. What is your stance on public art and graffiti?

Mayor Ford has made no bones about his public war on graffiti, but many, particularly youth in marginalized communities, have seen this as attack on the arts. Further, programs in such neighbourhoods have found themselves closed with little explanation. Where do your candidates stand on graffiti, and on public art in general? Toronto pales in comparison to many other major cities in terms of accessible public art. What do your potential councillors think can or should be done about that?

Funding for the arts may not get all the buzz on the campaign trail, but a candidate’s position on the arts can reveal much about the Toronto they envision.

With files from Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler