The first budget under Mayor John Tory’s administration is one step closer to becoming a reality after it received unanimous approval from his executive committee on Monday.
It was the last debate at Toronto city hall before the budget gets sent to city council for a final debate and vote in March.
At the meeting, Mayor John Tory said putting the budget together was a “balancing act” — keeping property taxes low while also investing in the city. However, he thinks the goal was achieved.
“To keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation, the increases for this year, and at the same time, the need to make these investments in both hard and more human considerations for the city,” Tory said.
“In terms of both making sure that we can manage people’s money with respect, but at the same time make the investments that are necessary to make, if we’re going to have the strong, fair city that we want.”
Budget chair Coun. Gary Crawford said this year’s budget is a “transit” budget, pointing to reversing cuts by the previous administration.
“We are on the right path to creating a fiscally-responsible city, where we can all live, work and play,” Crawford said.
The average property taxes — which includes the Current Value Assessment and Scarborough subway levy — will be going up 3.20 per cent if this year’s budget is approved. The average homeowner will pay around $83 more.
“We think that’s good value,” the city’s chief financial officer Rob Rossini said when referring to the $59 increase the budget would have on the average household.
Although Rossini said next year’s budget will be a tough one, Tory said “I would invite all of us not to have panic headlines.”
The $10-billion budget includes a plan for the city to borrow from the reserve fund to fill an $86-million gap and pay back by 2020.
However, Coun. Layton said he wants clarity on how the city plans to borrow from itself, saying “I don’t think we are getting straight answers here.”
Mayor Tory piped in saying he didn’t like Layton’s choice of words in the question and asked for a more respectful tone with staff.
Toronto Water budget issues
Meanwhile, city staff estimate they will be $4-7 million over budget for water this year due to unscheduled maintenance costs caused by the frigid winter.
The city has seen a massive increase in the number of calls from homeowners dealing with frozen pipes.
Lou Di Gironimo, the general manager of Toronto Water, said what happened this year couldn’t have been predicted.
‘We do budget certain monies to deal with winter. It’s predictable that we’re going to have an increase in water main breaks and some frozen water services, so we budget on the basis of how many we typically receive on an annual year,” Lou Di Gironimo said.
“This is not typical. The number of no water calls is 10 times what we see in a normal year.”
Di Gironimo said it could be a month before the final totals are known.
Staff cuts at city hall
The executive committee is also debating whether to cut or keep up to 16 new staff positions that were added to the planning and heritage departments, in addition to some with the city’s ombudsman and in the office of the heritage commissioner.
Coun. Paul Ainslie does not feel comfortable with cutting eight jobs in the planning and heritage departments.
“I think they’re needed in a city this large. We also have a duty to preserve our heritage and I’m not prepared to support cutting eight heritage planners that deal in that area,” Ainslie said.
Coun. Michelle Berardinetti is questioning the value of adding the jobs, and according to a report in the Toronto Star, Berardinetti and her colleagues rejected requests for those new staff positions.
With files from Kris McCusker and Cynthia Mulligan