On March 7, Toronto City Council approved a $13 billion operating budget for 2019. Despite motions from particular councillors to further raise or add new taxes, Council voted in favour of increasing property taxes strictly by the rate of inflation. This means that there will be a 2.55% property tax hike for homeowners.
This year’s budget also confirmed $162 million in funding for the TTC to accelerate the construction of the downtown relief subway line by two years, as well as $30 million towards the Toronto Police Service, part of which will be allocated towards hiring 300 new police officers. In addition to property taxes, homeowners will face a 3% increase to their water rates and a 2.2% increase to their garbage costs. Despite pushback from riders, TTC fares will be raised by 10 cents.
Toronto will move ahead with a Housing Now plan that is set to build 10,000 more units on 11 surplus, city-owned cites. Toronto Community Housing will also be receiving $195 million towards priority repairs, but with the total repair bill expected to reach $3 billion by 2028, many housing advocates are worried that this year’s allocation simply won’t be enough.
While funding is being promised in many areas, much of it is unconfirmed or deemed insufficient. Councillor Perks put forth a motion to increase property taxes by an additional 2% to help boost services for Toronto’s most vulnerable and assist with more investments in crumbling infrastructure, but his motion was voted down. Councillor Layton put forth a motion to bring back the vehicle registration tax to help pay for better transit, road safety and maintenance efforts like snow clearing, but that was also voted down.
Devika Shah, Executive Director of Social Planning Toronto said that “it’s very, very clear that the city does have a major revenue problem and we need to look at not just small property tax increases on those of us that can afford it, but a number of other creative revenue tools to build a city that works.” Debates about revenue tools and taxes continue to divide councillors, but the fact of the matter is, someone needs to pay for the City’s shortfalls.
Back in January, the federal government promised $114.7 million in additional funding to help cover the costs associated with housing refugees across the country. While the City’s budget passed, it was only approved based on the assumption that Toronto will receive $45 million out of the proposed $114.7 million from the federal Liberal government. Ultimately, Toronto needs $45 million in funding to balance the budget and house asylum seekers. Supports from other layers of government are necessary in order to move ahead because our city cannot operate on a deficit.
Many councillors are concerned about a total of $79 million dollars worth of funding holes in the current budget, so while no cuts are underway, the services that Torontonians rely on are at risk. Unconfirmed funding means that many of the promises that have been made in the 2019 budget might not carry through as expected.
With the federal budget unfolding this spring and an imminent federal election taking place this fall, other party leaders in Ottawa will have an opportunity to pitch their funding promises to municipalities, including Toronto. One thing is for sure, Toronto would benefit from sufficient investments at the federal level. The needs are great and low-income earners cannot carry the weight on their shoulders.