How Community Service Agreements Can Make Toronto Better

Part of the rationale for amalgamating the six Metro cities into the new City of Toronto in 1998 was that it would realize cost savings and efficiencies. As noted in the Chief Administrative Officers report on the amalgamation process to Council in 1999 seventy three percent of the value of the operating budget at the time of amalgamation had already been harmonized through programs and services operated at the Metro level of government. It was only within the remaining twenty seven percent that efficiencies could be derived.

Nearly twenty years later and the dream of a fully harmonized City of Toronto still eludes us with councillors fighting tooth and nail to preserve historically derived services that are exclusive to only a few communities within the city. Besides the cost implications there is also the questions of equality and fairness by having the residents of the whole city pay for services enjoyed only by residents in parts of the city.

That councillors want to protect those services is no surprise, it would be electoral suicide to campaign on a pledge of cutting services that directly effect your constituency. Besides that, complete standardization of service delivery does not take into account differences within communities that make them appealing or that acknowledge the unique conditions of the neighbourhood.

The challenge is to balance the needs of the City in standardizing certain services across the whole city while at the same time enabling individual communities to have access to additional services they desire.

Take, for example, mechanical leaf collection, which is the city service of collecting unbagged leaves raked to the edge of the road as opposed to being required to collect leaves in paper bags for pickup. This service is only available on particular streets in certain neighbourhoods within Etobicoke and Scarborough. As recently as 2014 the programs was costing the entire city about half-a-million dollars and residents in nearby neighbourhoods without the service complained about the disparity.

Before discussing additional services for particular communities we must first finish the discussion of the kinds of services that everyone in the city should be able to expect to have access to regardless of where they are. Most hard services are already provided on an equal footing already: garbage, water, sewage, and electricity. That common floor needs to be established and where it is found that an area is lacking special focus should be made to bringing service levels up to standard.

Services that should be standardized are those that ensure accessibility – like city plowing of sidewalks – and equal opportunity – like access to social and recreation services. Once the common floor has been achieved then discussion of Community Service Agreements can begin.

Community Service Agreement is a contract between the residents of a community and the City where the city provides or facilitates a service beyond the common standard. These could be, for example, side of house garbage pickup – a service that used to be provided in the Rosedale neighbourhood many years ago – or mechanical leaf collection.

However, the costs of these additional services shouldn’t be borne by residents not receiving the service. As part of the agreement City staff would need to determine the cost of providing the service to all the neighbourhoods that want them and the cost of providing the services would be added to those residents property tax bill.

Local councillors would be the conduit through which Community Service Agreements would be developed and there would need to be a demonstration of overwhelming support for the service, as well as the additional tax levy, in the community where the service is to be established. This could be accomplished though a ballot initiative during municipal elections with a threshold of two-thirds support.

As a city we need to acknowledge that individual neighbourhoods are unique and may want additional services while at the same time ensuring that all residents only pay for the services that they are eligible to receive.