Toronto's 2018 budget is balanced, but missing $41M for big plans council has OK'd
'We do have some work to do,' says Budget Chief Gary Crawford
Toronto city officials unveiled a balanced budget on Thursday morning that relies heavily on profits from a tax on home sales, but councillors were quick to question why key initiatives they approved were not in the budget.
Councillors pointed out the proposed 2018 budget doesn't including some $41 million worth of initiatives, including most of the city's poverty reduction strategy, the TransformTO climate change plan, and allowing two-hour transfers on the TTC — something Mayor John Tory has already announced will be happening.
Budget Chief Gary Crawford says the city is committed to those unfunded projects, but they will have to be added during the budget debates that will play out in upcoming months.
"We do have some work to do," he told reporters.
Crawford says overall this is a "good news" budget and the city is in a far better place financially than it was last year.
The city can largely thank all those real estate bidding wars.
Crawford defending why investments approved by council aren’t baked into the budget: ‘we have to follow a certain process.’ And yes, he expects that process will involve fights at council. Buckle up. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TOpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TOpoli</a>—@johnrieti
City on pace to net $783M from tax on home sales
The municipal land transfer tax is set to bring in some $793 million in 2017 — over $85 million more than anticipated. That money helped make up nearly a fifth of the city's now-closed budget gap.
City Manager Peter Wallace warned councillors they can't keep banking on that "extraordinarily positive" growth, noting the real estate market did weaken through the year.
"Those signals have not yet shown up in our data," he said, adding there could be some "softening" toward the end of the year.
I have a sense what the mayor wants is a quiet budget with a few highly identifiable perks in it.- Coun . Janet Davis
Citywide, Wallace says services will be maintained at their current level, however they have not been adjusted based on population growth, something many will consider a cut.
Wallace says councillors can choose to invest in new and enhanced services, but if they want to do that they will have to figure out how to pay for it.
The budget ties property taxes to the rate of inflation, a campaign promise of Tory's. Earlier this week, he said he's confident the city can pay for everything it wants without raising that rate.
"We're going to be able to do it because of efficiencies and savings achieved from existing budgets," he said.
Protesters say it's time for the city to invest
What do demonstrators want? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TOpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TOpoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/3ztiPhGk2p">pic.twitter.com/3ztiPhGk2p</a>—@johnrieti
Community groups demonstrated in front of city hall ahead of the budget drop, calling on the city to make good on its promises — accusing councillors of talking a big game when it comes to climate change and fighting poverty, but not following through.
Bee Soh, a low-income Torontonian who relies on transit, came to city hall hoping to hear the fair fare pass, which will discount TTC rides for people like her, would be approved. It wasn't.
"Frustrated," she said, when reporters asked her how she felt about the city's move.
While it's likely the pass will be approved eventually, Soh questions why she has to keep waiting.
Councillor says this will be an 'election budget'
Coun. Janet Davis says she's hopeful council will fund the key strategies it has already approved, and was visibly frustrated Thursday while she asked staff why those measures hadn't been baked included into the preliminary budget.
She notes the spending is more likely to stay because "this will be an election budget," she told CBC Toronto.
"I have a sense what the mayor wants is a quiet budget with a few highly identifiable perks in it," Davis said.
Davis says she'll be urging councillors to consider new revenue tools, or raising taxes already in place, noting those who live in nearby GTA municipalities pay far more.
"The land transfer tax is not going to be the golden goose forever and we cannot rely on it."