The Summer Of The Ward 33 Audit – Ward 33 E-Blast August 10th

For my wonderful @Ward33Team, this summer has been all about the “Ward Audit”. We’ve had some extra hands on deck this year, so we are able to send them out to physically tour every street and park in search of needed repairs and improvements. Each time we do one of these audits, we check on things we have requested in the past. Has the work been completed? If not, do we know when it will be? Are there new state-of-good-repair issues that haven’t come to our attention yet?

Little pot holes repair quickly, the bigger they get the bigger the job.

The Ward Audit has two goals. First, the team tries to catalog what we find and then help city crews prioritize minor repair work that we would like done. Secondly, we check on the big infrastructure work locations. Have these been properly wrapped up, streets and work sites left clean and put back to normal? If these sites were temporarily patched up the audit allows us to list them and establish a date when permanent repairs can be completed.

Library state-of-good repair issues are also included on this list

The first few times we did full Ward Audits, years ago, we had great success. We put our requests in early and got a fair amount of work done ahead of other wards. There are no guarantees that we can get those results this year. After seven years of pushing every city department to do more with less, finding the staff with enough time to respond to the general upkeep concerns raised in a street-by-street audit can be quite a challenge. It won’t be any easier this year, as we head into the dreaded election year budget season.

Right now, city bureaucrats are presenting the very first drafts of their departmental 2018 budgets to the City Manager and his senior team. General Managers have already been told not to present any “new” money requests, to deliver a budget that is exactly the same cost as last year, and to absorb their own department’s inflationary impacts.

We have reached a point where asking every department to do more with less may have come around to where it is actually costing us money. There aren’t the resources to address minor repairs, let alone monitor and inventory where these are needed. You call to complain, or my team complains on your behalf. When the complaint can’t be addressed in a timely manner, the problem gets bigger and bigger until it has to be addressed as a full-on capital project. Next thing you know, the Procurement department has to write up a bid document, contract out the work, and a job that would have taken a week to finish takes three months, with an overstuffed private sector crew standing around leaning on shovels.

The biggest back to normal issue, replacing sod. 

My Ward 33 Audit team will not be looking at the social services side of things, but the same “do more with less” principle is showing its strain in this area as well. We have been fortunate to receive federal or provincial funding in some key poverty reduction areas over the past seven years. Most often, the funding coming from these governments is presented and announced as a share of a greater level of service that Toronto has loudly proclaimed we want to provide. However, when the city doesn’t fully provide our share, or we pass along the cost directly to you in additional user fees, as was done with childcare, you don’t feel the benefit of the investment from our partners. For the other governments it becomes much easier to say no next time.

In each Budget town hall over the past three years, a growing number of people show up to ask me and the other Budget Committee members, “I want my neighbourhood to look as good as it used to, but not at the expense of all the other areas that need attention. Why don’t you just tell us what that would cost?”

A popular political ploy, when faced with the question above, is to respond with, “Well that would cost eleventy billion dollars and would require a 20% property tax increase right now. Some members of Council want to do that to taxpayers, but not me.” I promise you, dear reader, you will hear that politicized approach multiple times before the election year budget is adopted in March, and nothing will change. I have a different idea.

$ Dollars and Sense 

What if we admitted that things are not fine at the moment?

What if we admitted that investment is needed across the city, and not just on crazy huge projects like the Scarborough One Stop Subway and the Gardiner Expressway’s new hybrid ramp? We could agree, collectively, to take a rational approach towards getting the city we want. A brave city leader could say, “We need to invest a little more into almost every area of our day-to-day operations as well as managing our debt as we build the big projects. We need to do it wisely, not wastefully, so a gradual approach makes sense. Here is a 10-year plan to get us there with the least amount of pain possible, and I will not insult you by pretending it won’t cost you a thing.”

We are starting to cost you money by neglecting things until they fall apart, and by gouging you with various fees here there and every year. What have you got to lose in asking that Council prepare a more honest ten year plan to both build and operate a better city? No magic elixir taxes or fees that we think someone else will pay, but a solid and gradual approach to true financial sustainability.

The bureaucrats presenting their budgets upstairs in the City Manager’s office are presenting the same old, same old right now while you are reading this in your summer reading spot. If you want something different, something better, it is neither too early nor too late to start saying so. It is actually the exact right point in the Budget process. More importantly, election year is exactly the right year to say, “I want the city that looks and feels Iike the city I remember, the city I chose to live in. Oh, and yes, I also want to help get others, housed, working and out of poverty. The city needs to work for all of us.”