by SUE-ANN LEVY, Toronto Sun
As much as $130 million of one-time money has either been dumped down the drain or committed to fund ex-mayor David Miller’s Climate Change Agenda in the last four years — money which could have been used to offset Toronto’s humongous debt, it was revealed at audit committee Monday.
There is a mere $20 million in cash left in the special reserve fund created to subsidize environmental grants and capital projects but “all of that is committed,” city manager Joe Pennachetti confirmed during the committee meeting.
He later told me if the programs were cancelled today, a “little money could be saved” but not much. He couldn’t put an exact figure on the potential savings.
The generous $130-million Climate Change fund was set up by Miller and his inner circle in November of 2007 — barely one month after council passed the dreaded land-transfer and personal vehicle taxes. The money came from the city turning $245 million of its $900-million-plus stake in Toronto Hydro into cash.
Part of the $245 million was to be directed to funding the extension of the Spadina subway into Vaughan; the rest to subsidize Miller’s ambitious Climate Change plan.
In 2007, $62 million had been earmarked for various energy retrofit and solar and wind installation loans. On Tuesday staff couldn’t confirm how the money had been spent.
The revelations came out — with some reluctance from the enviro-crats at City Hall — following questions from newbie councillors Josh Matlow and Mary-Margaret McMahon related to a pointed audit of some $21 million in grants administered by the Toronto Environment Office (TEO) under the Climate Change plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the A-G, while some of the grants have been in place since late 2008, a report on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions reduced as a result of the projects subsidized will not be available to council until sometime this year.
The A-G notes several problems with TEO’s management of the grants, most especially a lack of a formalized process to monitor whether the projects funded are on track to achieve the objectives promised.
The report also emphasizes many of the grants the audit reviewed were up to one year late submitting progress reports. The A-G blames the lack of incentive to produce timely reports on the fact grant recipient are given 90% of their cash up front.
The A-G highlights that TEO is just one entity of the city giving out money to would-be green projects. There is also an audit underway on the loans and grants provided by city’s Energy Efficiency Office. In addition, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund gave out grants of more than $750,000 in 2009 for precisely the same reasons. The report also implies environmental grants are buried in other city departments.
Which brings me back to the $130 million.
When the number was first revealed, former budget chief Shelley Carroll — attempting to defend her former leader, no doubt — at first suggested to all who would listen that tax money was not involved (little wonder the city is in such a fiscal mess, methinks).
Then she lectured members of the audit committee, saying they could have used the $130 million to “plug the (deficit) hole” but with one-time monies one spends “for impact” — that they are “best used” to change the way people behave in this city.
“They (one-time monies) don’t plug holes in budgets … they make holes bigger and bigger.”
But Matlow wasn’t buying it.
In fact, he gave the former budget chief the lecture she long deserved.
He said despite the fact that he’s been an environmental activist for 10 years, if anyone in Toronto was carrying a huge balance on their credit card and they suddenly received one-time money from somewhere they’d throw it towards the credit card — not just to pay it down but to pay less in interest every year.
“I’m not suggesting environmental initiatives are gravy,” Matlow said, but he couldn’t understand how the city found $130 million when it routinely cries about a $500-million budget hole.
“Sometimes we need to make decisions when our fiscal situation is out of control and we need to do something about it.”