The city is tweaking its budget to add millions in spending to build more shelters, combat climate change and preserve that ancient drain discovered under the old St. Lawrence Market building.
Budget Chief Gary Crawford moved a motion containing more than $50 million in funding on Tuesday afternoon that was approved unanimously by the budget committee. The recommendations will go to Mayor John Tory's executive committee next week, then to city council in mid-February.
The "new and enhanced" funding in Crawford's motion covers many council-approved plans that were not in the initial balanced budget that was tabled by city staff last fall.
It also responds to an ongoing shelter crisis — one that hit national headlines during an extreme cold snap this winter — by pouring millions into establishing new shelters and keeping 700 respite centres open until the end of the year.
"When there's someone who's homeless and needs a place to go, we need to ensure that they have that," Crawford told reporters.
The Shelter Support and Housing Administration's budget is set to increase by $21.8 million in 2018, money that will go toward opening more permanent shelters. That funding is set to step up in the coming three years, as the city works toward a goal of opening 1,000 new spaces.
Other capital funding increases include:
- $9.5 million for work on the St. Lawrence Market north building, which includes preserving the "porcupine drain," which was discovered under the old market and dates back to 1831. The money is for construction and archeological work and also includes contingency funds for the complex project.
- $22.8 million for Union Station construction work. (The city plans to try to recoup some of this money from Metrolinx.)
- $6.3 million for the vision zero road safety plan.
Meanwhile, a number of operating budgets also saw small increases. The city is also funding the creation of an indigenous affairs office as well as committing cash for its anti-black racism plan.
Much of the spending was included in dozens of motions that were moved at Tuesday's meeting with no advance circulation. Crawford's omnibus budget motion actually left out funding for the TransformTO climate change plan, but Coun. Frances Nunziata moved a successful motion that includes the $2.5 million needed for the plan.
Councillors criticize process
Coun. Shelley Carroll argued the city should be consulting with the public before the budget process starts and before a spending target is set.
"Ask people what the city they really want is — and are they prepared to pay for it?" she said.
Right now, Carroll says the city may be putting a "chicken in every pot," but risks having to take that chicken out next year.
Taxpayers, she said, "don't want that anymore."
Coun. Gord Perks, meanwhile, said Crawford and Mayor John Tory's refusal to hike property taxes beyond the rate of inflation benefits the wealthiest Torontonians who own homes, but harms the city services that everyone relies on. He also questioned how the city is coming up with the cash to pay for everything in this year's spending plan.
"It's terrible budgeting and you just made it worse by being unsustainable."