Toronto city council approves 2017 budget after marathon meeting
Councillors put forward dozens of last-minute motions to modify $10.5B financial plan
City council worked past midnight to approve the 2017 budget, voting on a flurry of last-minute motions brought forward by a divided council.
The $10.5 billion financial plan, anchored by a 2 per cent property tax increase, was approved by a vote of 27-16, with limited changes to what was approved by Mayor John Tory's executive committee.
But not before the meeting ground to a halt, when council voted in a surprise move to restore some $2 million in funding for street-sweeping, throwing the entire budget out of balance. Coun. Justin Di Ciano said he inadvertently voted in favour of the motion, but council voted against reopening it, sending councillors and staff scrambling for a fix during a hastily-called recess.
Council then voted to allow Budget Chief Gary Crawford to find the money, which he did by dipping into a reserve fund.
Coun. Janet Davis said it was clear councillors had "screwed up," and said the entire process had been frustrating.
"We should be helping people and providing the kinds of services that will address the needs of our city," she said, following the vote.
Mayor pleased with budget
Tory hailed the budget as fair and affordable, touting major investments in the TTC and Toronto Community Housing. Tory said the budget includes 2.6 per cent more spending than last year, while still saving around $180 million due to newfound efficiencies and staff reduction through attrition.
However, critics on council said the budget makes the city a more expensive place for many — pointing to things like the 10-cent transit fare hike — and doesn't do enough to help the city's most vulnerable.
Homeowners will also pay more, as water and garbage rates climb, while city fees for things like recreational programs and rinks are going up, as well.
During the city hall debate, Tory faced the sharpest questions over his support for a recommendation to cut shelter costs by shedding 10 workers through attrition or redeployment.
"Our shelter system is over capacity," Coun. Joe Cressy warned council, adding the city's move to add shelter beds while reducing staff is akin to building a hospital without nurses.
Cressy's motion to refund some $1 million to the shelter support budget failed,19-25.
Other councillors, including Jim Karygiannis, went further, saying Tory was jeopardizing the lives of homeless people across the city. Tory fired back, saying he had been assured this wouldn't put anyone at risk, and assuring council that the issue would be monitored by shelter staff in the coming months.
"If I believed this was the wrong thing to do, then I wouldn't support it," Tory said
Motions fly on a range of topics
After months of debate, councillors put forward a range of motions including, but far from limited to:
A motion from Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon to maintain city funding for the pool at S.H. Armstrong Community Centre, where Olympic hero Penny Oleksiak got her start. (Failed on a tied vote.)
Coun. Frances Nunziata urging the city to ask the province for permission to launch a Toronto lottery. (Approved)
- A call from Coun. Michael Ford to freeze pay for non-unionized city staff. (Failed — city council opted against even reopening this debate.)
Combined, the motions represented several million dollars worth of funding, some in areas that councillors consider vital. In several cases, close votes appeared to show a divided council.
Devastating. Motion to save SH Armstrong Community Pool programs loses on a tie <a href="https://t.co/fKF230eViX">pic.twitter.com/fKF230eViX</a>—@PaulaFletcher30
Davis successfully introduced a motion to keep an Etobicoke child-care centre open until later this year, Coun. Pam McConnell blocked a cut to a one-on-one mentoring program for children, while Coun. Joe Mihevc restored $70,000 in funding for several city-run emergency cooling centres.
However, Coun. Gord Perks's request for $1.22 million to fight climate change as part of the TransformTO plan failed, 21-23, producing an audible gasp from the room.
Mihevc said in the past, motions have been made by councillors to deal with "irritants" in the budget. But after Tory and several other councillors urged against approving many of the motions, Mihevc told the mayor: "It feels like all the decisions have been made."
Coun. John Campbell told councillors he was "dismayed" by the additional spending, warning his colleagues that the city is in a tenuous position when it comes to generating revenue. If not for massive proceeds from the Municipal Land Transfer Tax, Campbell said, "we would be in very dire straights indeed."
Crawford noted work on the 2018's city budget will begin almost immediately.