This week, City Council has approved a budget with a residential tax increase of 2.23%. Part of this increase (.5%) is to cover part of the costs of the Scarborough subway. This rate does not include an additional .5% cost to cover the provincially mandated reduction of commercial property taxes and provincial education tax which effectively cancel each other out.
Overall, I am pleased that Council was able to keep the increase low despite huge costs associated with July’s rain storm and December’s ice storm. It is worth noting also that councillors from all parts of the city worked together to create a budget which received almost unanimous approval.
In the end, the only very contentious issue was the .5% for the subway, the first installment on a 1.6% increase that will last for 30 years. A motion to remove the funding, which I supported, lost 22-23. In addition to the serious reservations I have previously expressed about the value of this subway, I believe it should not be funded by a 30-year $1 billion debt on the property tax.
I believe that city debt is approaching dangerous levels and that the repayment costs will reduce our ability to deal with urgent priorities such as reducing overcrowding on the Yonge subway line.
Please note that the 2.23% increase is the amount of the increase in the city’s mill rate. The year-to-year change on individual properties is also affected by the phased in Market Value Assessment. This system, introduced by the provincial government many years ago, taxes properties according to what they might sell for. Because of high property values in Willowdale, this system unfairly (in my opinion) causes residents in our area to pay more for city services than residents receiving similar services in other parts of the city where property values are less.
Important Local Funding in the 2014 City Budget
401/Yonge Interchange – As announced last month, the City has budgeted 50% of the building costs of a new interchange at Yonge & 401, a project which would have the single largest impact on local traffic issues. The money is earmarked for construction starting in 2016, but still requires the Province to step up and match the City’s commitment to this project. More information on this project is available on my website.
Increased funding for TTC service – Willowdale residents that pack their way onto local buses and subway cars are well aware of the dire need to increase TTC funding. This budget will see an additional $12-million invested to address growth needs as well as $6.3-billion over the next 10 years to repair and replace critical infrastructure.
Expanded Hours for Students at North York Central Library – Part of the expansion of hours at the Toronto Public Library will include an After Hours Study Hall enabling TPL to offer study space until midnight, Sunday to Thursday, at the North York Central Library as part of a six month pilot running from April to June and then from September to December.
Toronto Centre for the Arts – Funds have been approved to reconfigure the Centre’s underused main stage into two smaller theatres. There is a demand, particularly by theatrical groups, for theatres with a capacity of 300 to 600 patrons. The renovations will provide the Centre with an opportunity to bring in more revenue while providing area residents with a much larger selection of professional productions.
Increased supports of Arts & Culture – The City will step up its funding for arts and cultural organizations across the City, including North York Arts, an organization I helped establish. North York Arts works with me on the summer Cultura festival and other local arts projects.
Expansion of the Student Nutrition Program – Support for this very successful program has been expanded, ensuring that more schools are able to have breakfast programs to feed hungry children. Support for these programs is also provided by the provincial government, the Toronto District School Board, parents, and individual and corporate donations.
Getting Our Fair Share of Development Charges
Although I would gladly trade the money the City collects from developers in exchange for less development in the area, I believe it is essential that our community get its fair share of the money collected from developers through development charges. This year’s budget includes some major local projects paid for entirely by developers.
New Arts Park – As announced last year, I am working on the creation of a new city park with an arts theme, just east of Doris Ave. between Hillcrest and Princess avenues. If you are interested in getting involved in this project, please contact me. More information on this project is also available on my website.
New Child Care Centre at Avondale School – The city’s approved budget now includes $3.9 million in funding for a new child care centre to be connected with a new Avondale school being built by the Toronto District School Board. The funding comes entirely from developers. In the coming months we will be seeking community involvement in the needs assessment and design of this facility. If you are interested in getting involved in this project, please contact me.