City of Toronto budget heading to executive committee

Toronto's proposed budget cleared another hurdle on Tuesday evening by winning the budget committee's approval, even though several councillors criticized the city's plan.

Property taxes remain at 2%, but a host of service fees going up

Budget Chair Gary Crawford leads the debate at Tuesday's budget committee meeting. (John Rieti/CBC)

Toronto's proposed budget cleared another hurdle on Tuesday evening by winning the budget committee's approval, even though several councillors criticized the city's plan.

The committee voted in favour of going ahead with the proposed budget, which includes 2.6 per cent cuts to many departments. Budget chairman Coun. Gary Crawford said demanding the cuts — even though some were repealed — was an important exercise for the city to conduct and has saved taxpayers money.

"It was a necessary tool to get us to where we are today," Crawford told the budget committee, noting the city has found some $170 million in savings this year.

Crawford, who introduced an omnibus motion late Tuesday that reversed several cuts and invested more in some areas like the student nutrition plan, said he believes the budget is fair and equitable.

"And it is balanced," he said. 

New revenue generators like a hotel tax — pegged at four per cent for hotels and 10 per cent for short-term rentals — and a plan to harmonize rates with the Ontario Land Transfer Tax are included in Crawford's motion. But to balance the budget, the city will also use $87.8 million worth of "bridging strategies," which includes borrowing from reserves. 

Coun. Gord Perks, who has been an outspoken critic of the budget throughout the process, blasted that plan, saying it passes the burden to the taxpayers of 2018. 

Coun. Janet Davis said the city needs to do more to help parents struggling with child-care costs that are the highest in the country. (John Rieti/CBC)

Coun. Janet Davis criticized the decision to cut occupancy grants paid to Toronto schools that house daycares, warning some 15,000 families could pay an additional $350 a year on child care if those schools pass down the additional costs. 

"I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's right. And I think it needs to get fixed," the Beaches-East York councillor said. 

Mayor John Tory has asked the province to pay the occupancy grants, arguing it's unfair for the city to pay for them as some schools get the grant while others don't. Tory's staff also noted it's not a certainty that without the grant funding, the Toronto District School Boards and others would have to pass their new costs along to parents. 

But Davis said that's inevitable.

"The school board has no choice ... they have no option but to pass it on to parents," she told reporters following the meeting.

Entire city council to get a say, soon

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker said the city has always drawn on reserve funds to balance its budget, and while it may not be ideal, it is a valid method.

"I think it's a miraculous budget," he said.

The entire city council is set to get a say on the budget in February.