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A call from Shelley Carroll

I got a call from Shelley Carroll’s office earlier this week, telling me I overlooked some key items in this year’s budget, specifically on issues I have raised previously. Here are two tasty points of crow for me to eat.

1. Twelve new positions for the planning department. Cost: half a million bucks. Councillor Carroll says this is the budget initiative that makes her most proud, though she also calls it “modest.” I second her on both counts. The new jobs will bring the department’s staff to roughly 359 full-time positions. Then again, for a variety of reasons (including gapping), the department finished last year with only 312 staff. So they’re not just hiring 12 people; they’re hiring 47. (U of T Planning class of 2008: Are you listening?) The hiring process will take months, so it’s a rebuilding year. Meanwhile, the budget brief (just read the executive summary) makes it pretty clear that 12 additional staffers are not enough to solve the problem. Real progress will depend on future years’ investments. But it’s a start.

2. Capping the cops (sort of). This year’s police budget is $798 million, which is a 1.5 per cent increase over last year. That’s been a long time coming: this is the smallest increase to the police budget in a decade (their annual increase has been at least three per cent since 1999). It doesn’t correct the imbalance that has been created by 10 years of letting the police force eat up an ever-increasing share of the operating budget. But it’s a start.

Nevertheless, a decade of post-amalgamation budgets have taken a heavy toll, and despite all the hoopla about this one being balanced, it remains a post-amalgamation, still-no-uploading, cities-are-still-underfunded, we-still-need-one-cent-of-the-GST budget. It took 10 years to dig this hole and will probably take another 10 to dig out of it.

Perhaps the most cogent reason for optimism is that city hall and Queen’s Park are happy partners these days. During last year’s tax debate, some of the mayor’s supporters argued that if the city did the right thing and adopted some new taxes of its own, Queen’s Park would respond favourably by ponying up its share, too. Looks like they were right.

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