As the city's 2016 operating budget is being debated at city hall, Coun. Michael Thompson is expected to move a motion Wednesday calling for the Toronto Police Service budget to be trimmed by millions of dollars, one of a number of items that could change over the next couple of days.
- Executive committee approves operating budget, including 1.3 per cent property tax hike
- Mayor announces task force to modernize Toronto police, cut costs
The police budget, the biggest item in the city's overall budget, will be front and centre of the debate. Thompson is expected to move a motion calling for millions to be cut, but he would not get into specifics when asked by CBC News.
"We're working on a number of options," he said.
Thompson said he is not alone among councillors concerned about a ballooning police budget, adding that deferring cuts to next year and beyond isn't sufficient.
"There's a pattern associated with the police and current versus next and so on in terms of addressing the budget," Thompson said. "I'm unwilling to accept the concept that simply this year's not possible, next year it is, or maybe."
Coun. Gord Perks noted that policing is "a crucial and life-saving service to the citizens of Toronto," which makes it a "politically difficult" budget issue to tackle.
"A lot of us feel that if we're restraining our ability to solve other problems, why does the police budget keep growing and growing and growing?" Perks told CBC News on Tuesday.
In a letter to councillors, Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle and Chief Mark Saunders said they "welcome this conversation" about the 2016 police budget, but pointed out that it has already been approved by the board, the city's budget committee, as well as the mayor's executive committee.
While the police budget is up $24 million, or 2.4 per cent, compared to 2015, 90 per cent of that increase "is required to meet statutory employment obligations and collective agreement increases that the TPS has no real control over."
The remaining 10 per cent covers costs not included in the collective agreement, the letter says, a portion of the budget that decreased between 2010 and 2014.
According to the letter, the force is only replacing the number of uniform officers estimated to retire or leave in 2016, meaning it will be 213 officers below the approved number.
Property tax increase
The property tax increase of 1.3 per cent has been a key part of Mayor John Tory's budget goals. He ran on it and hasn't budged. It will likely pass, but expect some councillors to move for a higher rate.
"We've been told by the city manager that in no uncertain terms we don't collect enough taxes to pay for the programs and services that we offer," Perks said.
He acknowledges that talking about tax hikes is never popular, "but we have to do that." While property taxes for single-family homeowners are going up in line with inflation, the increase for businesses, industry and apartment buildings, for example, are below inflation, he said.
"That means we have to do more with fewer dollars. You can do that to an extent, but after a while cracks start to show up. And that's why, for example, we are not able to implement the poverty reduction strategy and offer daycare spaces."
The budget has money for a number of new city spaces, but none of them are subsidized and will cost between $10,000 and $15,000 per child.
"Not very many families can afford that," Perks said.
He and other councillors would like to see a few hundred subsidized spaces.
"Some of us are talking about the need to get a few hundred full-fee subsidized spots in the daycare system so that young families or single parents who are trying to enter the workforce can actually afford to go to work," he said.
Levy for capital projects
Tory will try and move a 5 per cent levy, which would be collected in 2017 and be devoted to capital projects.
"I think the mayor took a bold and important step by acknowledging that our long-term financial health requires that we get some new money in, and creating this capital fund to pay for some of our big projects around transit and housing is wise and courageous," Perks said.
But "it's too small," he said, and may only bring in about $1 billion every 20 years.
"Our capital backlog of things that aren't funded at all is more like $23 billion," Perks said.
"So we're going to have to go even further than that."
In addition, he said, the capital fund levy won't address the shortfall in running the city's day-to-day operations, he said.
"We can't meet the basic service demands with the amount of revenue that we have today," he said.
Asked whether any property tax dollars will be diverted to implementing the mayor's SmartTrack regional transit plan, Perks said it "depends on a lot more than just money."
He noted that technical and environmental assessments are ongoing and "we don't have any clear signal yet that the vision that was put forward in the election is even technically possible."
Once the feasibility of the SmartTrack plan is confirmed, "then we can assess how we're going to pay for SmartTrack at that point," he said.