Committee sticks to streetcar spending strategy
The Toronto budget committee stuck to its strategy of spending the city's unexpected $292-million budget surplus on new streetcars Monday, despite many suggestions for other spending plans.
The debate about how to spend the surplus for 2011, which is $138 million larger than expected, brought out many concerned citizens, and some councillors, who wanted to roll back some of the cuts originally made to the budget.
Much of the larger-than-expected surplus is attributed to a hot Toronto real estate market, which added more money to the surplus through the land-transfer tax.
But budget chief Mike Del Grande wasn't budging on the new funds, saying the money should go towards the capital cost of replacing aging streetcars, something the council already approved during the 2011 budget process.
"A budget is a budget, you don't open and close it simply because it's convenient to do so," Del Grande said.
Other councillors disagreed, saying there was now more room to put items that were previously cut back into the budget.
"If we did, in fact, close off the budget, why are we here to allocate funds for a surplus that was not before us in January?" asked Counc. James Pasternak.
Pasternak argued that some of the surplus could be used to defer garbage-collection fees for non-profit and charity groups, to reinstate funding to youth outreach programs and to update broken and worn sports equipment used by kids at community centres.
But Del Grande and other members of the budget committee, the majority of whom are considered allies of Mayor Rob Ford, held strong.
The committee shut down all other ideas of how to spend the money, aside from one change to allocate an extra $180,000 into bed-bug prevention.
Despite the committee's opposition to alternate spending strategies on Monday, the final vote on how to spend the surplus will go before city council at a meeting in June.
With files from CTV Toronto's Scott Lightfoot