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Close small zoos and Riverdale Farm, consultant suggests - Toronto Star

July 14, 2011
David Rider
Urban Affairs Bureau
Toronto Star

The latest city consultant’s report suggests eliminating the small zoos at High Park and Centre Island plus Riverdale Farm, as well as the Toronto Environment Office and horticultural services.

The grass could be cut less frequently in parks like Christie Pits if the city heeds cost-saving advice in a consultant's report released on July 14, 2011.

Other cost-saving suggestions flowing from the report, part of Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign to deeply cut city spending and banish annual budget deficits, include cutting the grass in parks less frequently and contracting out such park maintenance, and planting fewer trees.

KPMG’s review of services provided through the city’s Parks and Environment committee was released Thursday morning. It’s the fourth of eight reports identifying “core services” in various city departments and identifying discretionary spending ripe for cuts.

The review deems forestry services “core”, with 83 per cent of the $175.1 million budget “essential” and 2 per cent “mandatory.” But a majority of other services are deemed “traditional” and therefore discretionary.

“Consider elimination of the zoo and farm attractions . . . Some zoo and farm attractions could be closed, however, these are enjoyed by many Toronto residents,” the report states.

The $1.27 million in potential savings corresponds to the budgets of the small zoos at High Park and Centreville on Centre Island, plus Riverdale Farm.

“I’m pretty sure this doesn’t apply to Toronto Zoo,” said that zoo’s chief executive Joe Tracogna, noting his facility will be scrutinized in a separate report.

The $11.5 million Toronto Environment Office, which does research, dispenses grants and offers programs to encourage sustainable living and support a “green economy”, is “largely discretionary,” the report states.

“Both Environmental Support Services could be considered for divestiture or closure. Elimination of this program would impact some revenue generation and have a detrimental effect on partner organizations and volunteers involved.”

Some programs cost-shared with other levels of government would be threatened, as would programs involving partners such as 19 employers that participate in Smart Commute.

The proposal to shutter the environmental office set up under former mayor David Miller was swiftly condemned by the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

“The consultant’s only way to save money is by cutting services that clear the air and reduce energy use and costs,” said Franz Hartmann, TEA’s executive director. “Torontonians don’t want to live in a city that considers clean air and a clean environment ‘gravy.’”

KPMG also suggests taking the task of park maintenance away from city employees, but does not address the issue of their redeployment or layoffs.

“Currently, maintenance of parks, sport fields, trails and horticulture is delivered by city staff,” the report states.

“There may be an opportunity to contract out the maintenance of these facilities either to interested community groups on a volunteer basis, or to a third-party landscaping service provider.”

Ford allies including Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday have previously said manual labour tasks, including grass cutting, should be contracted out to the private sector.

The report also says weekly grass cutting may not be necessary except for “high-use surfaces” such as playing fields. Public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong recently complained that a wet spring had grass and weeds growing out of control on city sites and called for more grass cutting.

KPMG says the city could wait for more than five centimetres of snow before clearing parking lots and pathways, although there would be increased risk of “slip and fall claims.”

Other cash-saving suggestions include reducing the number of trees planted each year and saving $490,000 by scrapping the fledgling Urban Agricultural Service that encourages people to grow food on city parkland.

Councillor Norm Kelly, chair of the parks and environment committee, would not endorse or reject any of the report’s findings, which will be discussed by the committee next Thursday.

Asked about the environment office, he told reporters: “It’s up in the air right now. Full debate.”

As for reduced snow clearing, Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough Agincourt) said: “The devil’s in the details. But so too are the opportunities. Committee will decide.”

Pressed to identify opportunities, he said: “Save taxpayers money, create a more responsive flexible government, enhance public engagement.

“I don’t think you can reach any conclusions until you hear from the deputations, and we have a chance to grill KPMG.”

The results of the park and environment committee debate and votes on the report will go to full city council in September, when debate on the 2012 operation budget will begin in earnest.

As originally published here: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1024733--want-to-save-money-stop-cutting-grass-consultants-tell-toronto?bn=1

2011-07-14 Close small zoos and Riverdale Farm, consultant suggests _Toronto Star_.pdf123.24 KB