Let’s play a game. Pretend you’re the CEO of a 10 billion dollar corporation with 50,000 employees spread across dozens of departments and subsidiaries. Because you’re a vigilant, waste-fighting CEO with a finger on the bottom line, you’re always reviewing your corporate make-up to ensure across-the-board efficiency.
One department — the eleventh biggest item on your general ledger — looks like this: key performance metrics are up. Per capita costs are down. The department has seen a dramatic increase in the number of users while adding about a dozen staff to its payroll. Adjusted for inflation, it’s seen less than a 10% budgetary increase over six years — half the increase other departments have seen over the same period.
And, oh yeah: this department is also recognized as the most popular of its kind. Worldwide.
So what would you do? Probably nothing, right? Move on and focus your waste-fighting efforts elsewhere. On programs that aren’t so efficient and beloved.
Which is why we have to ask: why the hell does Rob Ford’s administration continue to demand cuts from the Toronto Public Library?
Numbers, by the book
The Ford administration has been relentless in their drive to find library cuts, pushing for 10% despite repeated assurances by the Library Board that a cut of that size inevitably means cuts to library hours. When the Library Board finally and categorically rejected the demand for a 10% cut — they’ve already found 5.6% in so-called efficiencies — the budget committee, led by Mike Del Grande, refused to let things go, demanding the board find the remaining 4.4%.
(A pause here to note that TPL is not unique in its inability to meet the arbitrary 10% threshold. Several departments, including Fleet Services, the City Manager’s Office and — really — the Mayor’s Office also failed to meet that target.)
The saga continued at last week’s Executive Committee meeting, when perpetually drifting councillor Jaye Robinson moved that TPL only look for about $4 million in cuts, down from the budget committee’s request for $7 million. Her motion also stipulated that the savings be found without cutting library hours.
And while it’s commendable that councillors want to avoid cuts to hours, they’re really into blood-from-a-stone territory at this point. The library, at its core, provides two things: resource material and service hours. To save real money, you have to go after one or the other. There is not some magic pool of savings just awaiting discovery somewhere in the stacks of the Reference Library.
Responsible budgeting means being able to differentiate between the programs that are wasteful, inefficient and underused and those that are well-used and well-run. Every indication is that the Toronto Public Library fits into the latter category.
Continued attempts to raid TPL’s budget serve only to reveal the dangers of Rob Ford’s arbitrary fiscal strategy: it threatens the parts of the city that actually work.