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FORUM: Budget challenges at City Hall (Feb. 2020)

February 27th, 2020 · No Comments

Not all priorities can be met by property tax base

By Mike Layton

It is with great pride that I have the privilege of serving on the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee, which allows me the opportunity to help shape the direction of services over the coming year. Simply put, the annual budget is a chance for Toronto to set priorities as a city and take action on what needs to change. 

At its core, the annual budget debate is about people, and I view the process as a way to determine how we support and protect each other. The choices made in these sessions also govern how we interact with our parks and greenspaces, and how we get around – whether on foot, bike, transit, or car. 

This year my focus was on advocating for a budget that will create healthy, sustainable communities. This included supporting asks that will help us meet our climate targets, supporting the creation of truly affordable housing, providing affordable childcare, improving our parks and ravines, and expanding road safety initiatives. 

You may have participated, or sent me your thoughts on the priorities for our budget over the last month and for this I thank you. In addition to my commitments on the Budget Committee, I also had the opportunity to have senior city staff at a downtown budget town hall I hosted with neighbouring Ward Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Joe Cressy. 

When the city does its budget deliberations, we look at the operating budget for 2020 in tandem with our capital plan over the next 10 years. For the first time in a number of years, I believe that we have not produced an austerity budget. This is an important step in the right direction if we are going to build a city that is for everyone, not just the rich. 

We have been dealing with the effects of underfunding in our growing city for close to a decade. The decision to implement a dedicated tax increase to help pay for much needed infrastructure improvements and housing needs is definitely a step in the right direction. 

We also funded a Ravine Strategy that will finally be implemented to deal with the biodiversity, erosion, and litter issues in our ravines, with the Vale of Avoca/Yellow Creek being identified as a priority area for investment. In combination with my Ravine Working Group, we are positioning ourselves well to secure funding for both immediate and long-term restoration in sensitive ecological areas. 

There are, however, still troublesome trends. 

TTC fares are continuing to increase without substantial service improvements; repairing the Gardiner still absorbs 44 per cent of yearly capital spending on transportation infrastructure which affords us less money for implementation of Vision Zero; and the city is not moving quickly enough on its TransformTO and climate change mitigation strategies. 

Lastly, as the city cannot legally carry a deficit, we are forced to figure out ways to maintain existing service levels in the face of provincial cuts. For example, Children’s Services is sitting $15 million short of its growth strategies. That will have an immediate impact on expecting and current parents in the coming years. The status quo will not do. 

In order to shift the burden off the property tax base, we have to commit to a combination of new revenue tools. I am particularly excited about the prospect of a vacant homes tax which has been implemented successfully in Vancouver and saw the dual benefit of increased housing availability and revenue to put toward affordable housing initiatives. It is creative policies like these which are integral for a growing city to thrive and I look forward to supporting this in Council. 

Mike Layton is the City Councillor for Ward 11 University-Rosedale. Please visit www.mikelayton.to for the latest on this, and other city-related issues. 

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Tags: Annex · Columns · Opinion