Functionally, the Toronto budget isn’t that hard to understand

People at the City of Toronto are obsessed with presenting the budgets for agencies (arms-length organizations like police, transit, and library) and divisions (under the direct control of the City Manager, like Parks, Transportation, and Employment & Social Services) separately. That’s because they live inside that world. For the rest of us though, it’s much easier to understand the budget by merging divisions and agencies (collectively referred to as “programs”) into groups according to common functions.

A good place to start is to group programs according to whether they provide direct services to the public.

So direct services comprise about $9.5B of the 2017 budget (out of just over $12B). These can further be understood by distinguishing between General Services (about $4.9B) which are used by most people most days, and Citizen Support Services ($4.6B) which are targeted services intended to help people. What remains — Administrative Services — are what most people would think of as City Hall.

General Services are particularly easy to understand, since they are so widely used.

These consist of

  • Utilities: We have included Waste, Water, and Electricity. Although Toronto Hydro is not directly part of the Toronto budget process, it is directly owned by the City, so we include it here. After all, since we own it, we should be able to have something to say about what it does.
  • Services for moving around the city: These include the familiar Roads, Parking, and TTC services.
  • Public commons (places to gather): These include the familiar and beloved Parks (with the associated Arena Boards of Management and the Association of Community Centres) and Libraries, and also the specialized public attractions maintained by the City: Exhibition Place, three theatres (Sony Centre, St. Lawrence Centre, and Toronto Centre for the Arts), the Zoo, and Yonge Dundas Square. We include Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and Heritage Toronto because they are responsible for the quality of public spaces.

Some Citizen Support Services may not be as familiar to some people, but they are equally easy to understand at a high level.

  • Emergency Services: These are the familiar Police, Fire, and Paramedics (ambulance) services. We include some additional specialized services under policing: the Police Board, Court Services (transporting prisoners), and Parking Tags. Note that Parking Tags Enforcement & Operations is currently buried by the City, we think incorrectly, in Corporate Accounts. In fact Parking Tags is a unit of the Toronto Police service, is therefore analogous to WheelTrans in relation to the TTC, and should be listed under Agencies in the budget.
  • Wellbeing Services: These include Public Health, Long Term Care (quite a large operation at $257M), and Children’s Services.
  • Housing and Income support, which together are about as large as Emergency Services.

Finally Administrative Services, which are normally quite inscrutable, can be well understood if carefully grouped.

General Governance can be understood in three groups: General Management (making decisions), Planning & Development (looking ahead), and Civic Enforcement (keeping the city on track).

  • General Management consists of the main offices of the City: the City Council (and all councillor offices), Mayor, Clerk, City Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer, and accountability offices (Auditor, Ombudsman, Lobbyist Registrar, Integrity Commissioner).
  • Planning and Development consists of several planning & development groups in the City: Planning (headed by the popular Jennifer Keesmaat); Policy, Planning, Finance & Administration (to support the Buildings and Infrastructure group— known internally as Cluster “B”); Social Development, Finance & Administration (to support Neighbourhoods and Youth, associated with the Human and Social Services group — known internally as Cluster “A”); and Economic Development & Culture (for business and culture). We include Financial Planning in the above structure because it is so focussed on planning, particularly the annual budget process, although for budget purposes it is included in the Chief Financial Officer’s budget.
  • Civic Enforcement consists of Buildings, for enforcing building codes, and Municipal Licensing & Standards, for enforcing Municipal codes.

That leaves Internal Services, which are divisions that support other divisions and agencies.

  • Facilities: for supporting the City’s buildings and real estate
  • Fleet: for supporting the City’s vehicles
  • Engineering: for supporting the City’s (and partners) building projects
  • Information Technology (IT): for digital technology
  • Legal: for managing legal issues
  • 311: for directing public requests to appropriate divisions and agencies

Finally, Corporate Accounts collects financing details.

To be sure, this scheme is a model, and is thus a simplification. But as with all models, it serves to make a complex system more understandable.

For details, see the budgetpedia.ca/explorer.

Henrik Bechmann is the project lead of budgetpedia.ca. The opinions expressed here are his own.

For an update to this blog, see An important change to our Citizen Support categories: Human Services.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Henrik Bechmann’s story.