Last month City Council passed the 2015 Budget with a number of important service improvements from TTC to shelter services and other poverty reduction measures. The approved property tax increase was2.25%, below the rate of inflation (2.5%), however when the levy for the Scarborough subway is added, as approved in 2014, along with other adjustments, property owners will see a 3.2% increase to their bill.
Thanks to all residents who participated in John’s survey over the past two months, 60% of respondents indicated that keeping tax increases below the rate of inflation was important. However 60% also thought service improvements were a high priority. This budget tries to reconcile those priorities.
It comes as no surprise that Willowdale residents overwhelmingly identified transportation and transit issues as their highest budget priorities. John was pleased that $39-million in additional spending will go into TTC services over the coming year and that the $25-million set out for reconstructing the Yonge/401 interchange remains a key item in the City’s capital plan.
John remained concerned about the precedent of the City borrowing from its capital budget to cover an operating gap resulting from provincial downloading. However, he felt that the Mayor’s administration should be given the benefit of the doubt to make this work by finding efficiencies in advance of the 2016 budget.
Other local highlights include funding to reconstruct and upgrade our localsplash pads at Glendora, Willowdale and Hendon Parks, funding for theLee Lifeson Art park construction this year in addition to other local park improvements.
The budget picture always becomes more focused as it goes through Budget and Executive Committees and on to Council March 10. John’s initial thoughts are as follows: much of the new spending, especially on transit, is well justified. Raising additional revenue through user fees, as opposed to the property tax, is a fairer system in many cases. Example: a retired couple that uses little garbage will not notice the increased garbage fee but would feel the property tax hike to raise the same total money because the general tax rate, unlike user fees, are directly related to soaring homes values.
John’s biggest concern at this point, is what appears to be, in effect, an operating budget deficit. Toronto, like other cities, borrows money for capital expenditures, funding projects with a long life. But, thankfully, we are not permitted to run an operating deficit – meaning that we can’t spend more than we have to pay for day-to-day operations such as snow removal, garbage collection, parks maintenance, police, fire or ambulances. The proposed budget has an operating budget gap which, as currently proposed, would be funded with a line of credit from the province, with interest payable at market rates.
But what do you think? John would be pleased to hear from you and learn which of the priorities outlined in the staff supported budget are most important (and least important) to you. Changes are often made on the floor of Council and by providing your thoughts, you can help influence John’s thinking. Our online budget feedback tool is available here.
You can also share your thoughts with the City at one of the public presentations. The North York sessions are held at the North York Civic Centre (5100 Yonge Street) on Tuesday, February 3 from 3 – 5 PMand from 6 PM onwards. Register by calling 416-392-4666 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org before January 30.