Our city remains in a bad financial situation. Though this month’s budget may have been the best we could do under the circumstances, there remain ongoing issues that need to be fixed.
City Council approved its 2019 tax and rate combined operating budget in March. This included a 2.55% tax increase for residential properties, 1.28% increase for commercial properties and no increase for multi-residential/apartment buildings as per provincial legislation. With additional levies, including 0.5% to the City Building Fund, the total increase for homeowners will be 3.58%.
The budget’s goal was to preserve current service levels and continue investments in Council-approved priorities such as poverty reduction, youth equity, housing, environmental sustainability, city-building and mobility initiatives. It also incorporated the results of Auditor General recommendations to realize savings.
But residents need look no further than the state of snow clearing over the winter, or the growing number of potholes throughout the City to see that service levels really aren’t being preserved at all. Too many programs that have been approved by Council are only being partially funded while existing departments running libraries, community centres or child care remain squeezed.
Worse still, this budget isn’t really all that balanced, even though it may appear so. It continues to draws down on the City’s reserves, assumes future Federal money and cost savings that have yet to be realized and relies heavily on windfall Land Transfer Tax (LTT) money.
We know that simply increasing the property tax rate is both impractical and unfair while the Province requires the City to tax based on Current Value Assessments (CVA) of properties. This system means the value of a property has a far greater impact on what a resident pays in taxes, and often little correlation with their actual income. Residents are too often taxed out of neighbourhoods of growing property values when tax increases are aggressive because they are not felt equally in all neighbourhoods.
John believes that the City needs to have a serious conversation about identifying new revenue tools that will generate the income needed for projects and programs that have already been identified as priorities, but apply that burden more fairly to residents across Toronto. He successfully moved a motion during the budget debate asking the City Manager to report on a number of these options later this year so that Council will have another chance to finally bridge the gap between the infrastructures and services we want and the City’s ability to pay for them.
We expect this will be an emerging debate in 2019 and look forward to discussing it with members of our community.