Police spared big cuts as council approves 1.3% property tax hike
Councillors vote 30-13 in favour during the budget debate. Meanwhile, talk of trimming the Toronto police budget without a plan would put community safety at risk, says the mayor.
Feb. 17, 2016
By Tess Kalinowski
Police were spared a big cut to their $1-billion-plus budget, but Toronto city council put Chief Mark Saunders and a new task force on notice: Fundamentally change policing and contain runaway costs - or else.
While passing a 2016 budget Wednesday, council rejected, by a 12-28 margin, motions by Councillor Michael Thompson to slash either $24 million, $18 million or $12 million from the police budget.
Council agreed, 25-17, on a motion by Councillor Joe Cressy, to slice $220,000 out of the police budget and redirect it to crime prevention programs.
And another Thompson motion passed 41-1, which said there is an “urgent and abiding” need to restrain costs, and asked the Toronto Police Services Board to quickly implement radical change proposed in a KPMG consultant’s report, including more civilian use in court services, parking enforcements and paid duty. Only Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti dissented.
“We have to arrest the police budget,” declared Thompson, saying the service has for years thwarted reform attempts and pumped up its massive budget at the same time that the major crime rate in Toronto has been dipping.
“To date the Toronto Police Service has made no significant structural changes to address the unacceptable high rate of spending,” said the former police services board member, who sits on Mayor John Tory’s executive committee.
The extremely unusual attempt to roll back, on the floor of council, a 2.45-per-cent budget hike approved by the police board and Tory’s executive triggered a furious counter-lobbying effort by Tory’s office and Saunders himself, who went to city hall Tuesday to personally ask some councillors to give him a chance to guide reforms.
It caps a tumultuous year for Toronto police that has included major controversy over carding, questions about use of force and an attempted murder conviction for the officer who fatally shot Sammy Yatim and, most recently, the retirement of Deputy Chief Peter Sloly after he was passed over for the chief’s job and blasted Toronto’s bloated police budget.
Tory sits on the police board and vowed to be a reformer, but last year blessed police pay bumps that drove this year’s increase. He urged councillors to let a Saunders co-chaired task force, named Tuesday, attack the problems rather than hack away a big piece of the police budget.
“I think there is alignment on need for change in policing and how we finance policing,” the mayor said.
Tory said the budget is "not perfect but it's going to be a budget that moves us forward.”
Last November the Star revealed that the board had been sitting on the $200,000 KPMG “roadmap” to reforming a costly policing model that has changed little in the past 50 years.
One month later the board released the report, and Tory said he was “dumbfounded” by how often highly paid, front-line police officers are dispatched to routine non-emergency calls.
Tory allies who heeded his call Wednesday not to attack the police budget made it clear they won’t stand for any roadblocks.
"We need to see some real substance and some real change,” TTC chair Josh Colle said. “We'd better see it in the 2017 budget.”
Public works chair Jaye Robinson declared: “I think we can do better than the $25 million” in savings sought by Thompson.
Council passed a taxpayer-supported $10.1-billion operating budget and $21-billion capital spending plan, with a 1.3 per cent property tax increase.
The total hike, including a Scarborough subway surcharge, comes to 2.69 per cent, or $72.26 on the tax bill of an average detached Toronto home worth $549,586. Toronto continues to have the lowest residential property taxes in the GTA.
Councillors who argued the budget failed to do enough to help low-income Torontonians, or put Toronto on a sustainable fiscal footing, failed to push the property tax rate higher.
Tory relented on one point, adding $1.25 million for child-care subsidies after relentless lobbying by Councillor Janet Davis.
Still, the fact that departments including children’s services agreed with a Tory request to reduce costs, while the police budget grew again, rankled some, including Councillor Gord Perks.
“The double standard is unacceptable,” he said before voting on Thompson’s motions. “I choose the services that make it great to live in this city and that invest in people.”