Finding waste: Hurry up please it’s time

David Rider:

The City of Toronto is preparing to unleash pricey management consultants on all departments and agencies, with orders to uncover waste and identify city services ripe for “potential reductions and discontinuation.”

Executive committee is expected to authorize the reviews Monday, kicking off months of painful deliberations to find $775 million in savings and revenue to balance the 2012 operating budget.

via Team Ford set to give go-ahead to gravy-sniffing consultants –

Tomorrow the Executive Committee will consider EX4.10, a report on the 2012 budget process. This represents basically everything you’ve been hearing about when people mention “2012” and all the terrible things that come with it. In brief: the city will spend three million dollars on consultants, who will identify areas where the city can save money. Presumably they will find enough in cuts to shave 774 million dollars off the city’s operating budget, as that’s the  amount of pressure the city faces next year. The City of Toronto must balance its operating budget and cannot carry a defecit.

Why this is harder than anyone will admit: read this.

Here are the things that the city spends a significant amount of its revenues on: Police Services, TTC, Debt Charges, Fire Services, Shelter & Housing, Parks & Rec. Those would be your “first tier” — the big-ticket items. Then you have Employment & Social Services, Transportation Services, and the Toronto Library. Beyond that, you get into small-ticket items like community partnerships (ie. grants) — these will be cut, but it will be for ideological reasons more than anything else. People will claim that governments simply shouldn’t be supporting, for example, an arts program, when “it can’t afford it.”

Yes, there is a lot of room for efficiencies in the programs offered by the City. Finding such efficiencies should be an ongoing project. But you’re not going to find enough efficiencies to dig your way out of this hole. This will be about taking a long, hard look at everything the city offers and deciding if something can be eliminated or drastically cut.

This will be amount making city services fit into the budget, as opposed to making a budget that fits city services.

David Nickle talked to Shelley Carroll, and she put it like this:

Don Valley East Councillor Shelley Carroll was budget chief under Mayor David Miller. She said she supports the planned review, but was skeptical that council would have the stomach to actually implement the service cuts and realignments that would be necessary to find the quarter-billion dollars in savings.

“Councillors defend – we’re great at defending,” she said. “And if we’re going to do this on the council chamber floor on Channel 10, we’re just going to defend the heck out of everything.”

Carroll said councillors need to meet and focus in on areas where they’re all willing to make cuts.

“We need to do this so we know what the councillors’ no-go sacred cows are,” she said.

“If we find one, then we need to know where else you want to look to find efficiencies.”

via InsideToronto Article: Former budget chief skeptical of mayor’s savings plan

She knows, of course, that most of the operating budget is made up of either mandated programs or “no-go sacred cows.” It’s very challenging to fill this hole without killing a sacred cow. (I won’t rule out, though, that they may pull a rabbit out of their hat that will balance 2012 and shift pressure to 2013. It’s happened before.)

Keeping to the same pace as the 2011 budget process, this stuff will happen very very quickly over the summer. From the report, here’s the schedule we’re looking at:

At least it won’t be boring.

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