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Letter to Globe and Mail's John Barber

This is a response from Jutta Mason to a column that John Barber wrote regarding rink closings planned for the early part of the 2007-2008 season. Unfortunately his column is only available to subscribers.

posted August 30, 2007

Hello John,

In your column you felt that “easy cuts” are elusive. Here are some short-term ones for Parks, Forestry and Recreation:

1. Cut one day a month for each of the 226 (or so) management staff. Save $1.5 million in a year (I can show you the math). Right now they’re only cutting the hours of their lowest-paid staff. Those cuts add up much more slowly (except in the eyes of the lowest-paid staff whose small wages go down even lower). Interestingly, I’ve heard that lots of management staff are willing to take these days off, and even those few days yield an impressive saving at their rate of pay.

2. Cut one director and his/her staff, maybe the folks whose main job it is to “evaluate, recommend and initiate innovative advancements in regard to service integration trends.” There are now 7 directors plus one new “acting director” whose job it is to connect silos built by the other 7. Some of the directors make nearly the same salary as the mayor – that adds up. Save $1.62 million (I can show you the math in all of these suggestions).

Some of the staff can be moved out into the field, they can help run the rink programs. The casual staff program wages are about $20,000 a year if they get near-full-time hours.

3. Reduce the number of Parks trash police (and their supervisor) by half. They don’t keep track of how many people they catch (I can show you the staff’s Freedom of Information response to that effect), so it’s hard to know how many officers to cut. But I’d suggest four, which leaves four more to do dog enforcement in their spare time. Save $400,000 (always counting benefits, of course).

4. Move one-third of the Parks and Rec Youth Outreach Workers (called “yow’s), over to public health. One-third of 21 means seven YOWs, those ones whose job is to “provide general information and referral services to the designated youth groups, on recreation, housing, employment, education, health, other services and establish positive relationships with youth, agencies, police, schools and the broader community.” Public health has lots of new funding from the Province, this staff transfer would give them new, suitable youth staff without the necessity of interview or orientation. Save $490,000 for Parks and Rec to put toward opening the City's 12 double-pad outdoor artificial ice rinks in mid-November (on the formula that one good shinny hockey rink equals 10 good YOWs-worth of youth work).

5. Cut out the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Divisional Safety and Security Plan officers. They’re an expensive way to do evening washroom lockup in parks and an inefficient way to relate to troublemakers. Save $350,000 (or maybe more, the project is partly confidential). Restore the recreation staff to their former role of long-term work with youth and communities. (Instead of what they have become now: book-keepers for shrinking program revenues.)

That’s $4.36 million saved for starters. – I know it’s only a drop in the bucket of the 2007 PFR operating budget of $303 million. But this list is just for the short term, our group has more good suggestions, and so do some of the City workers. This is just enough to prevent the Mayor’s cuts from punishing citizens and front-line program workers.

By the way, last year (2006) the Parks Committee considered a staff recommendation to permanently close all outdoor artificial ice rinks except City Hall and Mel Lastman.

In their report to the committee, staff priced that at $569,400 for the 2006 portion (i.e. the month of December). Your informant for your column today said that $800,000 would be saved this December by keeping all of the outdoor rinks out of commission, but that guess is maybe a little optimistic, if you compare the two numbers.

That’s the problem with a lot of City numbers, e.g. Parks and Rec revenue forecasts. But that’s a story for another day.

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Content last modified on November 20, 2007, at 08:50 PM EST