Tag Archives: closures

Toronto Budget Cut Blitz 2011

Please imagine a lot of all caps rage here; I’m sparing your eyes in the name of communication.

What did I tell you, Toronto?  Hmm? I warned you, didn’t I?  I told you Mayor Rob Ford’s figures were total bullshit, that he was only interested in things that served him and the wealthy.  What did a large percentage of you do?  You voted him in anyway, believing his nonsensical “stop the gravy train” line and assurances of “I will not cut any services. Guaranteed.”

Which is why today the Executive Committee is hearing deputation after deputation on proposed cuts, after Ford took us from a surplus to a deficit in one budget.  A deficit that is not as large as he claims, nor is it large enough to require a 35% property tax increase, as his cronies have been scaremongering you.

I smell Ford Nation sniffing around the blog, claiming that “Pinko me” is going to just complain about why we shouldn’t cut anything without providing any solutions.  Guess what:  plenty of us opposed to all that Ford is doing to our city have solutions; we just aren’t being asked.  Further, those who’ve shown up to give deputations are being ignored, anyway, by a mayor staring at the countdown clock and his pet bulldog Mammoliti asking irrelevant questions that show his failure at basic statistical math, which in turn makes me feel that being a city councillor should require passing a test on Finite Mathematics before running.

Without further ado, here are a few of my personal criticisms and suggestions on the big ol’ fabricated/constructed budget crisis of 2011:

Ford, why not start with the few things in your platform I could get behind? Or the one thing left, rather: cut councillor perks.

Ford ran on a platform full of hot air, it’s true, and while he got the math and the facts completely wrong about councillor perks (and many other points on the platform), he does have a point.  Why are city councillors, who make about $100K/year, getting free parking, free TTC passes, free access to the zoo, etc.?

Now, do not be fooled by Ford’s claims that the city pays for these things:  they’re not bought by the city, but they are lost revenue.  That said, even though my calculations put the losses at about $425K per year, that’s still almost half a million dollars that could potentially be spent and end up in city coffers.  You can’t ask seniors to pay more property taxes or cut daycare while Ford gets to park his SUV for free.  And yet, discussion of this disappeared right after he was elected.  Why?

Stop wasting money on consultations and pet projects that serve only the rich, on our taxpayer dime

We have budget committees for a reason.  Why did the city spend $300K for KPMG to tell us almost everything was essential and barely funded at acceptable levels?  Why did we hire a firm that has been the source of multiple shady accounting scandals, anyway?  Why did we pay Case Ootes an obnoxious wage on top of his city pension – a pension from, among other things, working on the Toronto Community Housing board as its many financial missteps were made! – to tell us to sell housing?

Why are we paying for new consultations to look at a Sheppard subway when we already spent money approving the LRT that is CHEAPER and better suited to the traffic on that street?  Why are we spending $400K during a purported budget crisis on removing existing bike lanes?  Are these not ‘gravy’ when we can’t even afford to fund daycare and are proposing to close libraries?  Is throwing away $120M to cancel Transit City not foolish right now?  Did Ford not look at the previous costly assessments and see why LRT was chosen?

Don’t even get me started on the Waterfront nonsense.  Not only is the Doug Ford vision ludicrous, but it will cost us more money for consultations, planning asssessments being redone, let alone defaulting on Waterfront Toronto’s vision that is already underway.

If we have such a terrible spending problem, then why are the Fords initiating more spending?

Cutting jobs and leaving people on social assistance will worsen matters – so why do it?

Ford campaigned on reducing staffing costs strictly via attrition.  That is, when people retired, they simply wouldn’t rehire anyone for the positions, meaning lowered wage costs.  It makes sense, I suppose, and is the least painful way to cut jobs.

After being elected, Ford’s done an about face.  Now that his costly asssessment has not found his mythical gravy, he’s claiming city staff are the gravy, and throwing out package deals under the threat of pink slips coming anyway.  Lovely.

Hey, Ford Nation, guess what Mike Harris downloaded onto the city budget?  Welfare.  EI runs out eventually, and when that Federal cash is gone, guess where unemployed city staffers who cannot find a new job (due to the recession that is worsening here no matter what Harper claims) go?  The municipal coffers, for Ontario Works assistance.

In short:  what little we’d save chopping city staff will come back to bite us in the ass later, as social assistance costs rise.  Cut wisely, and sustainably.

Do an actual assessment of library traffic at all branches, and trim hours at slow/underused branches – or hey, trim executive staff who make a lot for doing very little

I’m not against any cuts in the library system.  I just don’t believe in making senseless cuts.  I don’t believe that five or six blocks further is “just fine” for someone to travel to a library.  For seniors, children, and differently-abled or unemployed individuals, libraries are a crucial resource and should be accessible.

That said, each branch should be able to produce an in-house picture of traffic to assess overall usage, peak times of day, etc.  Do that.  Trim hours.  Close on Mondays like in the old days at small branches.  Closing branches entirely is ludicrous.

Chop an exec or two, instead.  What precisely do they get all that money for, if it takes Margaret Atwood and the public to defend our library system?

Improve services to assist homeless and other impoverished individuals who qualify onto ODSP

This is a proposal that came forward a while back from the evil lefties, and it actually makes great fiscal sense for the city.  Many of our city’s homeless or those on Ontario Works suffer from a mental disability and should, by rights, be supported by Ontario Disability Support Plan.  ODSP is funded provincially; OW is funded with a large chunk of municipal dollars.  By transitioning people onto ODSP where they belong, we reduce city spending, help people get into homes (thereby paying property taxes via rent – what, homeowners? You think we’re exempt from taxes? We proportionately pay MORE than our share!), and most importantly, show some basic fucking humanity.  We also reduce the loads on our social programs serving this population.

Compassion and good economics.  Wow, Ford!  They’re not mutually exclusive.  Read the breakdown on how the city could invest $12M to save $100M annually here.

Increase Property Taxes

I’m going to direct you to another blog, which breaks down with figures and diagrams just why our city is financially screwed up to begin with, but here are the two key talking points:  1) 40% of our city revenue is derived from property taxes; in comparable US cities, they derive 18% of their revenue in that fashion, and 2) our property tax rates, in actual dollars and cents, are lower than all surrounding cities.

Services cost money.  You want police to show up when you need them?  You want better transit service?  You want to wait less time for help at a municipal office?  You pay for it.  If we brought our taxes in line, dollar for dollar, with Brampton (leaving us still lower than many cities around us), we’d have a lot more to work with.

If you’re ticked that we have to raise taxes, then blame the Feds, who refuse to give a damn about this city.  Oh, wait:  Ford voters also voted Conservatives into a majority in spite of their continued flipping off of Toronto.  Well, you reap what you sow…

As for one of today’s deputants (Matthew McGuire) who claimed that us impoverished renters can’t afford a property tax increase – I’m unemployed and I can afford it.  A property tax increase does not override laws on legal rent increases; further, the city has recently reduced the rates for renters, as Councillor Perks pointed out.  My rent went up $9 this year.  Oh my.  It’s not going to break me; a lack of social services to help those impoverished WILL hurt a lot more.

Cut everything by 5%, instead of castrating a few services that Ford and his rich pals don’t care about

Makes sense, don’t it?  When I’m making a household budget and the month is tighter than usual, I trim wherever I can.  Obviously, my rent doesn’t change on a whim, but I can call my cell phone provider and drop a perky add-on.  I can reduce my internet speed if I have to save cash for a while.  I can spend a little less on groceries, walk a little more to save TTC tokens…

In short, I can still have almost everything I want – just less of it.

Why has this not been an option discussed, given the vehement public opposition to the targeted programs and areas being cut?  Why wasn’t this costed out?  I’d like to see what could be done in this manner.

Selling money-makers is stupid and short-sighted.  Stop it.

City-owned theatres, zoos and parking lots bring IN revenue streams.  Why are we considering selling them?  Are you kidding me?  Great, we balance the budget for one year.  It’s going to make the problem worse next year and unfortunately, Ford will still be mayor, so the problem will still be his.

I actually support selling Riverdale’s zoo, the one in High Park as well.  They’re nice to have, but not crucial.  Selling the Green P lots and Toronto Zoo are foolish moves.

If a revenue stream isn’t living up to its full potential, then standard business management says to examine what’s not working and make it a more profitable venture if possible.  If the Sony Centre doesn’t make enough money to support its operating budget costs, why not look to Mirvish or Dancap, and say, “How can we make this thing a boon?”  Work with the devil that is LiveNation to fill these theatres more often.  Ford keeps claiming to be running our city like a business, yet even I can see how foolish these proposals are.

Spend more on the TTC, not less, to improve service and bring more riders in; kill/alter the weekday Day Pass; institute road tolls on the Gardiner and DVP

Enough with the claims of a ‘war on cars’; Ford started the only war:  the war on the poor.  Not all of us can drive.  Many rely on the TTC.  Cutting services or making it more expensive are both stupid moves that will only hurt the economic functioning of the city.

All of these moves go together, hence the lumped heading.  Crowding during rush hour is already intolerable and unacceptable at these levels; worsening the crowding standards will drive more people to return to using cars or the GO system, reducing revenues and crowding the streets further.  Many people would return to the TTC system or start using it if service improved further, and riders mean money.  Hell, screw the Sheppard line; the Downtown Relief Line is the only subway we should be thinking of right now.

Cancel the Day Pass during the week; for a single rider, it’s not really useful unless you’re doing a lot of travel in a day, and for the few who do use it, they can pay more.  Keep the weekend Family-friendly version, OR make those rules apply on Weekdays (or some version eg one adult, two kids max).  There’s a potential to bait in new users and/or increase revenue.

Last:  road tolls.  A quarter each way.  We have a lot of people who work in Toronto, drive in and use our services, but pay taxes to Mississauga and other cities.  Make them pay for the privilege.  Hell, give Toronto residents a partial tax rebate for the first 3 years on their spending on the tolls as a transition aid.  The money is needed.  Transit users are endlessly paying more fares on top of more property taxes; why are car drivers getting their vehicle registration taxes cancelled at a time like this?  It leveled the playing field.

Last and Key:  Do NOT make any set in stone moves until after the provincial election!

The NDP has expressed strong interest in helping the cities out.  If Ford were wise, he’d pimp the NDP, sit back, and hope for them to win and bail him out.  They’ve proposed matching municipal funding for TTC in exchange for a 4-year fare freeze on the TTC, as well.

Anyone who understands the finances of all three government levels is well aware that a large part of this budget problem stems from costs being downloaded onto cities that should be a provincial and/or federal responsibility, in the same of our usual Good Ol’ Boy Politicians (Libs and Cons) balancing their own budgets.  It’s time they take some of it back.

Before we punish ourselves, why not wait and see who’s got the reins on October 6th?

These are just a few ideas to bandy around…  Why are they not being considered at all?
Oh wait, because to do so goes against Ford’s mission to make life better for the rich suburbanites… not the city itself.

Coming up:  a further rant on TTC Crowding and its impact on the disabled, like myself.

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The JP Morgan Chase Saga – Part Two

I previously blogged about my horrid experience with Chase shutting down my Best Buy credit card on a seeming whim, leaving me with the awesome experience of going to a check-out and having my card declined. If you have not read that, READ IT FIRST.

After dealing with the normal level one tier customer service reps, I contacted Chase’s Executive Office, as they suggested.  I was told this office was where the decision to close my account, as opposed to placing it on hold, originated from.  I spoke with a representative of that office and explained the situation, and asked what the hell had happened.

I was then told that Chase legally could not tell me why my account was closed.  As in, illegal to say it.  No choice.  Nada.  I was absolutely baffled by this.  I was also told that level one had advised me incorrectly, and that my account was not closed due to missing information about my ID.  In fact, it was a mystery something else that was not my credit score, but was ‘information that was incorrectly collected at the time’.  I asked her outright if it was my employment status (part-time) or anything of the like, and she refused to confirm or deny anything.  She said she would send a letter on it. She also said she had listened to the call and was sorry that the level one reps had told me incorrect information.

For the record, I have yet to receive: a) the letter that level one advised was mailed before the in-store incident; or b) a letter from the Executive Office, clarifying the discussion we’d had.  I did, however, receive my Best Buy statement, dated May 26th, that indicated I had available credit!  Hilarious.

At this point, per my mother-in-law, who worked in banking for twenty years and was appalled by all of this, I contacted the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada for further contacts and advice.  I learned that credit card providers and other lenders have the right to cancel your credit account at any time, with no rhyme or reason to it, which I find really disgusting, but that’s politics for you. However, there is no law that prevents them from giving you the reason; it’s just their choice to withhold it, if they so desire.  More lies from Chase!

The rep did agree that the changing reasons and the closure versus hold seemed odd, and provided me with a number for the JP Morgan Chase Ombudsman for Canada, Jennifer Hare.  I left a voicemail.  Due to phone tag and personal obligations, I was unable to answer her right away, so she sent me a letter via courier.  This letter, dated June 7th, only served to further irritate me.  It begins by summarizing the facts I had already relayed or were known.  My account was closed May 17th, apparently; funny how my May 26th statement days I have available credit, huh?  I’m also still waiting for the letter sent supposedly prior to the store debacle.

But this is the hilarious part, which I will take the time to type out for posterity and dissection:

As a Canadian financial institution, Chase is responsible for complying with The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA), which sets out prescribed identification methods for credit card accounts.  For accounts opened at a retail location, Chase and Best Buy must review government-issued identification and record the unique identification number.  When you opened the account in November 2010, you presented your passport to the Best Buy sales agent, who collected the identification number.  Chase later performed a verification of the passport number as entered by the agent.  We found it did not match the format we use to validate passport unique identifier numbers, and accordingly had no alternative but to close the account.  We sincerely regret the inconvenience that the closure of your account occasioned. (emphasis mine)

So, now we’re back to my ID being the problem!  Back and forth, back and forth…. Chase, customer service isn’t ping pong.  I’m also baffled, being as the rep barcode scanned my passport, how the unique identifier wasn’t recorded.  I’m thoroughly impressed that an agent error, by Chase’s own words, led to my account being closed.  I’m still not given a reason why some accounts were only held and I was not contacted to get that identifier for them to verify me.  I’m also curious why it took six months for them to notice.

But let me draw your attention to the bolded part:  they had no alternative but to close my account.  That’s funny; your own employees told me some accounts were just frozen.  Further, I called the FCAC again today, who confirmed that there is nothing in the Act they cited that forces them to close an account, and further, that the government agency that enforces compliance cannot make Chase close an account at the snap of their fingers alone; Chase has the ultimate authority to choose to close it.

I have now left a further voicemail with Ms. Hare, detailing the laws as I have had them explained to me, and have also contacted FINTRAC, who ensure bank compliance with the Act.  I’ll continue to update on this nonsense, not only for those interested, but to make it publicly clear that Chase is hiding behind a dance of multiple laws to close accounts on a whim.  While that may be their legal right, it IS piss-poor customer service.  I’ve had a few others come forward and tell me of recent closures that are just as illogical, so I cannot stress this enough:  avoid Chase.  Boycott stores that use their financing services.  If your account was closed without warning, complain and ESCALATE.  I do not know the process in the States, but in Canada, the process can be found via the FCAC website, including all contact numbers (search Chase).

Keep failing, Chase.  You ticked off the wrong person.  I’m not passive, nor am I unintelligent, uninformed or too scared to question authority.  I’m legally well-versed and articulate, and will continue to spread word of your poor treatment of consumers.

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Canadians: If You Have A Best Buy Credit Card, Beware! Chase Is Screwing You Over.

So…  If you signed up for a Best Buy credit card in Canada (or Future Shop, its sister store) prior to January 2011, beware: your account may be locked or shut down without warning for no logical or legal reason.  How do I know this?  They told me that they’ve done it. 

This past Friday (May 20th) I went into Best Buy to grab a few movies for the weekend.  Although I had cash available, I always charge Best Buy purchases to my credit card from there, as I use it to keep tabs on how much money I spend on non-necessities.  My $34 transaction was declined.  Confused, namely because I had well over $400 of available credit, we tried again.  And again.  After the third ‘declined’, a passing manager offered to take me to customer service to call Chase; I gladly agreed, as I was now concerned that my card had somehow been compromised.  What I discovered, however, was far more shady and disingenuous.

After reaching a representative, he informed me that my account had been closed, due to “missing personal information on file”.  I then demanded to know what, precisely, was missing, given that they had just confirmed my name, address, date of birth and account number before telling me anything.  He placed me on hold, and transferred me to another representative (who later informed me she was very new to the call centre).  The second representative told me that banking regulations had changed in Canada as of January 2011, requiring that photo ID be presented to obtain credit in store – “things are more strict now,” she added emphatically – and a mass review of accounts had been undertaken since.  I then informed her that I have always had to show photo ID to obtain credit for store cards and otherwise; in my twelve years of being a credit holder, I have always had to prove my identity.  I then told her that I was standing in front of, ironically, the same store employee who had opened my application, and she had seen my passport on that very day last November, so it was obviously not a new policy.  The representative tried to insist this was not universal; I had an employee confirm otherwise beside me while she was on the line.

I then asked why I wasn’t contacted about this supposedly outstanding identification, as I have been getting my statements promptly each month.  Surely, I told her, if this was a problem since January, they would have contacted me before outright closing my account?  She advised me that she could see a letter was sent “recently” and that some accounts were on hold while some were closed.  I asked why my account wasn’t on hold then, pending notification of me; the representative said she was new and had no idea how it worked.  I asked how to re-open my account, after emphasizing how utterly humiliating the whole process of having my card declined was, which was when she told me the kicker:  because they shut down my account, I would have to re-apply for credit to have a new one, thus incurring a credit score hit.  I again pointed out that this was ludicrous, stressing again that my passport had been scanned into the computer for the application to Chase(!) in November, and that there was absolutely no way I would tolerate another score hit for their error.  I then demanded that someone with authority regarding the closings phone me back; the representative informed me there was no way to schedule a callback and that she didn’t know who would have closed my account, “but I could ask my supervisor.”  She asked, and returned with a PO Box address in Ottawa.  I again stressed wanting a callback; she said she would take down my phone number and give it to her supervisor and see if she could.

I then asked if my current no payment plans would hold with the account closed (I purchased a laptop on a year plan with no payments or interest, hence applying for the card in the first place); she had to check as she wasn’t sure.  I was assured all was in order, but the card was now useless for new purchases.

I have been making payments monthly; there was no reason to flag my account for closure over a hold, as my score is exceptional.  The fact that there seemed to be no rhyme or reason, nor any notification or actual knowledge of credit policies in Canada, is extremely disturbing.  This was a review undertaken on ALL Canadian card holders at Best Buy and, conversely, sister store Future Shop; there are others out there who have been unknowingly terminated.

As I informed Chase and the store, I will not give another cent to the chain until Chase is no longer their credit provider, which is a shame for them, given my spending habits and my fiance’s love of electronic gadgets.  I also refuse to incur a hit on my score for foolishness. I urge you to do the same, and please, check on your account as soon as possible. 

Way to fail, Chase.  Way to fail.


EDIT:  THE SAGA CONTINUES!  MORE CHASE LIES ON THESE CLOSURES HERE!

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