Once bitten, twice taxed?
That’s suddenly a daunting possibility after Budget Chair, Coun. Gary Crawford, admitted that the city could potentially ding homeowners with a second tax bill, or resort to cutting essential city services, to compensate for Premier Doug Ford’s provincial budget cuts.
Crawford said the prospect of hiking taxes troubled him, but he couldn’t rule it out in the face of a City Manager report that estimated the city’s 2019 funding loss from provincial cuts at nearly $180 million.
“I will be doing everything I can to ensure that we will keep the commitment to keep property taxes low … the reality is … I don’t think I can actually find that kind of money in efficiencies…without severely cutting services, or raising taxes,” Crawford said Tuesday.
In the report presented to city council on Monday, City Manger, Chris Murray, outlined the financial implications of Ford’s cuts.
“Based on the best available information to date, the estimated funding loss to the City of Toronto Council-approved 2019 Budget is $177.65 million,” the report states.
The City Manager’s report broke down the estimated 2019 budget funding loss as follows:
- $24 million from the cancellation of planned Provincial Gas Tax Funding increment
- $65 million for Toronto Public Health
- $84.8 million for Children’s Services
- $3.85 million for Toronto Paramedic Services
Crawford says the lost money won’t be easy to find.
“(That amount) is upwards of a 6, 7 per cent property tax increase and that concerns me. Either that, or we look at cutting services, major services, that residents of the city expect.”
City Council voted 25-1 on Tuesday to request that the province reverse the “unilateral, retroactive cuts” to the city’s 2019 budget. The only councillor who voted against was Michael Ford, the Premier’s nephew.
On Monday, Premier Ford responded to the City Manager report at Queen’s Park, questioning the numbers.
“They’re saying we cut $24 million from transit? You’ve got to be kidding me … we’re investing $28.5 billion in transit, the vast majority is going into Toronto to get people from Point A and Point B,” he said, referring to the province’s ambitious plan to expand Ontario’s transit network.
Crawford said he hopes to sit down with Mayor John Tory and the province to try and find an amicable solution.
“I know there is work to do … but to suggest that we can find $180 million of efficiencies within weeks or a couple of months is not possible,” he stressed. “And I think he should know that, that’s why we want to sit down with him, that’s why we want to have that conversation with him to figure out how to move forward.”
Council was discussing the dire situation at city hall on Tuesday.
“We are faced with retroactive cuts by the government of Ontario to our budgets that were already approved earlier this year,” Mayor Tory bemoaned. “The cuts were imposed without regard to the budget process of our city.”
“Toronto is Ontario’s economic engine,” he added. “And these cuts run the risk of stalling that engine.”