HOW’S YOUR SERVICE? – Ward 33 E-Blast November 9th

HOW’S YOUR SERVICE?

The water and solid waste budgets were not particularly newsworthy. Rates have been kept as low as possible to avoid election controversy. On average, water customers will pay four dollars more per month and most of us will pay around 50 cents more per month for our garbage bins. Which, if any, services will be cut to make this possible has not been detailed.

This is how the property tax budget will proceed as well when it is launched in December. It is time for me to ask the question that councillors and mayors never, ever, like to ask, for fear of ending up wearing the answer. After eight years of flatlining, under-funding and over-promising in the Council Chamber, it is time to ask, “HOW’S YOUR SERVICE?”

Every day 311 operators and councillors’ offices scramble to answer every call, log your problems and then flail about looking for the skilled Public Servant to solve it. It is getting harder and harder for us to find them. Non-replaced staff retirements have hollowed out many a department. Are you okay with that? “How’s your service?”

Recently, we’ve had some traffic meetings in Ward 33 to design solutions for local speed and volume problems. The Traffic Operations Staff pictured above, Shawn Dartch and Dan Clement, are great. They responded to residents’ concerns quickly, booked site tours with my team and they are recommending actions. But when will the actions be taken? Staff retirements don’t happen in perfect strategic patterns. Gaps are left throughout the system. The process of getting Shawn’s recommended signage or road painting done in timely fashion will be hit and miss. Everyone will do their best.

This process of leaving positions unfilled as baby boomers retire is called “gapping”. If a manager leaves the position empty for a year or two, their budget shows a surplus and they get a gold star. Currently, there are 139 missing staff in Toronto Water and 85 missing in Solid Waste Services. So I ask you, “How’s your service?”

This week, our office has been frantically responding to hundreds of tenants experiencing sporadic water service due to a Toronto Water watermain re-lining project in their area. They have received no communications to tell them how the project might affect their water services.

Now, this is capital work usually done by private contractors on behalf of the City. These projects work best when there is a City Staff liaison on site for residents and when there are fair and clear communications included in the terms of our contract. What happens when budget efficiencies lead us to contract out the on site liaison work to the private contractor as well? That happened a few years ago in the name of savings. And what if the City inspector who is meant to drop by and inspect whether or not the communications are happening, and whether the contractor’s on site representative is properly available, doesn’t show up because he’s managing five different sites? “How’s your service?”

This week in Council, my fellow councillors began a whole new set of requests of Municipal Licensing & Standards on the important issue of illegal, unlicensed body rub parlours. It is a complex issue in areas of the city where a concentration of these establishments exist.

Councillors want Tracey Cook, general manager of some of the City’s most controversial files, recently profiled in Toronto Life, to launch a rather large set of actions. They want a review of the licensing regime we set up years ago for legitimate massage centres and spas, a city wide consultation of these practices and of city nightlife in general. They need her to come back with proposals to amend current bylaws. Ms. Cooke made clear this represents months of work and the resulting proposals would then require increased budget to enforce more stringent bylaws.

Oddly, more than one councillor then made speeches about their frustration with the lack of services from Licensing and Standards currently. They were skeptical that any new staff resources would materialize to shut down illegal massage parlours in their wards. This is healthy skepticism since these same councillors always vote against funding the very things they ask City Staff to do. To these councillors, I really want to ask, “How’s your service?”

Year in and year out at budget time, councillors make sweeping resolutions to have staff do more and more and more. Then they announce these resolutions in newsletters. Then, for the past eight years running, the same councillors vote for motions to cut all budgets and vote to forbid any expenditure that would be classified as “new or enhanced levels of service”. Councillors, tell us, “How’s your service?”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating opening the floodgates. When we have been flatlining and cutting for 8 years while promising big things. Now, we can’t suddenly say that everything will improve all at once. You and I would receive utility and property tax bills we cannot pay. Instead, I want to ask you all to think about it for the next few weeks. What is your most urgent City Government need? “How’s your service?”

The City of Toronto Budget process makes an annual hunt for savings that don’t affect our service to you. I’m not suggesting we ever stop doing that. No city is perfect, even a city like Toronto, that is once again ranked among the most liveable in the world. However, I believe that at Budget time, we should also have another annual step in the process. We should be asking Torontonians where we need to invest, to improve our service to you. So, if we can only suggest a little at a time, where should we invest to make the most impact on your life in Ward 33?
Tell me, “HOW’S YOUR SERVICE?”