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FORUM: Eventful new year at city council (Feb. 2024)

April 5th, 2024 · No Comments

Budget, development planning, and safety, fill agenda

By Dianne Saxe

Winter weather is always challenging for city staff. Thank you again to all of our frontline workers in emergency response, shelter and outreach, and construction, who are hard at work in winter conditions. I arrived back at my desk more determined than ever to tackle the city’s challenges.

At this time every year, city hall is dominated by the city’s budget. Toronto is squeezed unmercifully between an inadequate, inflexible revenue source (property tax, which doesn’t grow even when property values do) and soaring financial demands. With only 9 cents of every tax dollar, we face aging infrastructure, spiraling construction costs, a growing population, plus about $1.5 billion needed for poverty reduction, which should be paid for by the Ford government. At the same time, many residents are facing financial hardship and feel unable to pay the city more.

The city is doing the best we can to balance these difficult pressures while protecting current service levels, despite serious financial traps, including:

The federal government is flooding the city with refugee claimants that it doesn’t look after and won’t process for more than two years. Their number doubled last year and is likely to double again this year. Even if the feds pay $250 million, as proposed, that would only shelter about 5000 refugee claimants. We have 5,800 now and are on track for over 10,000 this year, with no end in sight. No one has a plan to house or pay for them.

High quality infrastructure is indispensable for a prosperous community. But we are spending so much to shore up the province’s inadequate social services that we can’t fix our infrastructure. We are so far behind on critical repairs to roads, parks, arenas, etc. that costs and breakdowns are going shockingly higher. Expect exponential cost increases, worsening roads, and dropping reliability. 

We’re almost completely off-track regarding climate, neither meeting climate reduction targets nor getting ready for what’s ahead. Both mean worse health and bigger costs ahead.

I don’t officially sit on the Budget Committee. But, to protect your interests and to strike the right balance between needs and ability to pay, I read every budget document and asked tough questions at every Budget Committee meeting. We had a great Ward 11 Townhall on the budget in January. I also read all your emails to me on the topic— thank you for caring enough to write! The final budget will be determined by the mayor, perhaps with minor tweaks by council, because of the strong mayor powers imposed by Doug Ford. 

Many of your comments focused on the proposed police budget, arguing for increases to deal with hate, auto theft, and break-ins, or decreases to fund other priorities. A detailed Budget Note sets out the CFO’s rationale. A discrepancy of $12.6 million is identified between city staff and TPS budget proposals, $1,174 billion versus $1,186.5 billion net, respectively. At once, $59.7 million in funding is provided to offset added pressures in the 2024 Police Budget, equivalent to a 5.2 per cent increase. Please join me at my Feb. 15 Ward 11 Townhall to discuss safety, auto theft, and policing in our ward.  

Meanwhile, I secured some wins for you at committees. Relevant to the Annex, in light of high-profile controversies at 300 and 316 Bloor St. W, the Planning and Housing Committee agreed to consider limiting how much extra height Committees of Adjustment give high-rise developers as “minor variances.” The Infrastructure and Environment Committee (IEC) agreed that bike lanes should be “safe and passable” for bicycles, not just for cars. And IEC agreed that we should obtain a net gain for endangered species when developers put replacement habitat on ity property. This builds on my success ensuring that two chimneys will be built for chimney swifts in Budd Sugarman Park, instead of just one.

Finally, there are some construction notices to report in and around the Annex. Laneway reconstruction will proceed at Albany Ave, Poulter’s Place, Barbara Barret Lane, Herrick St, and Loretto Lane. The work is due to be completed by August, weather dependent. Think of how much better these streets will look with new paving, sidewalks, and permeable treatment!

We invite you as always to reach out to our staff with questions and concerns. Happy New Year to everyone in Ward 11 once more.

Dianne Saxe is city councillor for Ward 11, University-Rosedale.


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