What does Toronto's (preliminary) budget mean for you?

Toronto's preliminary budget for 2018 is out, and a personal finance expert says it not too soon to plan some spending changes.

Personal finance expert says sock away some money in advance

At least ice skating at city hall is free, as long as you have your own skates. Here's a look at what you can expect to pay more for in 2018. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Toronto's preliminary budget for 2018 is out, and a personal finance expert says it not too soon to plan some spending changes.

City officials unveiled a balanced budget on Thursday, however it leaves out some $41 million worth of council-approved projects. It will be up to Mayor John Tory and city council to dictate how the city will pay for those initiatives.

What appears clear, is that homeowners will have to put a bit more money aside in the 2018.

Here's what you need to know:

What's going up?

Councillors have already approved minor hikes for garbage and water rates, so you'll need around $50 for that — depending on the size of your garbage bin and how long you like to spend in the shower.

Homeowners should prepare for a 2.1 per cent property tax increase, although the final rate is often higher once education fees and the city-building fund is added.

Jessica Moorhouse, who runs a personal finance blog and has been getting used to diligently planning around her Toronto tax bills, advises homeowners to track their spending. The goal, she says, is there should be "no surprises" when the city hikes its fees. One practical measure is ensuring there's some buffer room in your bank account, if city bills are automatically drawn from your account.

Moorhouse's other advice is evergreen: "have an emergency fund," she told CBC Toronto.

That goes for renters, too, Moorhouse says, even though they're largely unaffected by property tax changes.

"I just assume city costs are always going up," she said.

Oh, and if you're planning to buy or sell a house, the city thanks you. Proceeds from the municipal land transfer tax continue to beat estimates, and are a major part of why the city's been able to balance its books.

Will you get more services for your buck?

Probably not.

The city's plan is to maintain services at their current level. So, your neighbourhood pool will be open for the same hours. However, the city's growing, so expect busier lanes and a harder time registering for swimming lessons.

City officials made it clear to councillors this week that if they want to expand programs to match population growth, they will be the ones who have to figure out how to pay.

Last year council voted to yank funding from S.H. Armstrong Pool, and the pool's fate could be up in the air again this year. (John Rieti/CBC)

Coun. Good Perks told reporters this amounts to a cut, because the people who are moving to Toronto are paying more tax but not getting the services they pay for. Instead, those tax dollars are helping freeze property tax budgets for everyone else.

He plans to again call on council to consider raising the property tax. "My constituents tell me, that if they know the services Toronto needs can be delivered, they're prepared to pay," he said.

Will they cost more?

City divisions have held operational spending to less than one per cent this year, so it's possible some areas have hiked user fees to keep their budgets low.

That information is set to come out at future meetings of the budget committee, as people get a better look at how divisions are spending their money.

What about daily stuff, like the TTC?

This is shaping up to be a good budget for TTC riders if council makes good on two promises.

First, the TTC's base cash fare will be frozen at $3.25 per ride (with Presto users, students and seniors still paying less).

Next, the budget perk with the broadest appeal: two-hour transfers. The TTC is hoping the hop-on hop-off style of getting around will boost stagnant ridership, while also improving commuters' lives. However, while Tory announced it would be happening, council still needs to find the money for it.

When will we get some final decisions?

City council will tinker with the budget until next February.

But Tory has already announced which measures he wants to find funding for, including funding for the TTC measures mentioned above as well as investments in child care, poverty reduction and climate change mitigation.

The public will also have its chance to have a say during three days of presentations at city hall, on Jan. 8,9, and 10.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.