Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Levy: Tough decisions needed for city not deferral

TORONTO - The city’s Chief Financial Officer Cam Weldon could not have been clearer at executive committee Tuesday.

He warned councillors they face “substantial fiscal challenges” not just with the operating budget -- but as far as funding the city’s 10-year capital plan is concerned.

He told the group the city’s debt is projected to reach $4.3-billion by 2014.

Weldon said they’ve already approached the council-approved debt ceiling that mandates principal and interest charges not to exceed 15% of the yearly tax levy.

He told the commmittee the capital plan includes no funding (debt or otherwise) for some $2.3-billion in TTC capital assets to which the previous council had made commitments -- a figure that has since been whittled down to $750-million.

Weldon made it clear they do not have even the $750-million (and can raise no further debt).

He also told the committee they need $1-billion in the first five years of the capital plan, which they don’t have.

He added that they don’t have money either for infrastructure desparately needed by the city’s long-term care homes and the Lawrence Heights Revitalization Plan -- or to deal “with emerging issues” such as repairs to the Gardiner Expy.

That’s why it is time to cash in the city’s 43% stake in Enwave and a 10% stake in Torotno Hydro, Weldon said.

That move, plus the sale of as yet-unnamed city real estate holdings, is expected to raise $600-million by 2014 and lower the cost on the operating budget to service the debt by $65-million a year.

“We don’t have an option,” he said. “We need to put the money into TTC infrastructure.”

If he said it once, Weldon -- who is not known for hyperbole -- repeated at least a half dozen times that they “need the money now.”

Otherwise, he said he’ll be asking council to make some “difficult decisions” as to what capital projects -- certain roads or community centres -- should be taken out of the city’s capital plan.

A phalanx of leftist obstructionists -- Adam Vaughan, Shelley Carroll, Mary Fragedakis, Janet Davis, Joe Mihevc and the ever insufferable Gord Perks -- plus their pathetic union/special interest hangers-on heard Weldon’s every word.

But he might as well been talking to a wall, or braying to the moon, for all the good it did -- with these leftists, a.k.a, The Protect Union Jobs at All Costs crowd.

Perks, badgering Weldon as if he was a hostile witness, claimed the city’s credit rating agencies haven’t downgraded the city (not yet) and that the debt ceiling won’t reach beyond 15% for at least three years.

Evidentally the David Miller clone has not been keeping up on what’s happening in Greece.

Former budget chief Shelley Carroll, who greatly helped get the city into this mess, served up one of her semi-coherent lectures full of those big words she uses to try to make herself sound intelligent -- in which she contended that the city was not at its “debt wall.”

She also wondered if the city’s finance officials had considered lengthening the debt horizon from 10 years to 30 as she did when she was budget chief -- as if this was a stroke of financial genius.

Even certain members of Mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle — most particularly Jaye Robinson and Michael Thompson — couldn’t bring themselves to make a hard decision about selling off a measley 10% of the city’s 100% ownership of Toronto Hydro.

Robinson, acting more like the city bureaucrat she once was than a politician entrusted with hard decisions, claimed she needed more time to “consult with residents” and determine whether the 10% sale was in their best interests.

“It’s a big one,” she said of the sale, as if someone asked her to cut off her right arm.

In the end they agreed on the Enwave sell-off but deferred consideration of Toronto Hydro until January, making Weldon’s job and that of budget chief Mike Del Grande’s all the more difficult.

“It seems to me deferral is the easy way out,” Del Grande told the committee.

No kidding.

Maybe the city needs to go bankrupt before they listen.

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