Toronto council passes 'COVID-19-era budget' with average property tax hike of $141
City seeking $1.4B from province, feds to cover budget shortfall
Homeowners in Toronto can expect an average increase of $141 on their tax bills after city council passed what Mayor John Tory described as a "COVID-19 era budget" Thursday — one that will increase property taxes by about 4.4 per cent.
But the city says it still needs more cash from higher levels of government to avoid dipping into an "emergency backstop" of funds this year to maintain services in face of budget shortfalls brought on by the pandemic. The city went into the budget meeting with a gap of about $1.4 billion in COVID-19 costs it expects the federal and provincial governments to cover.
Some of that gap will be covered by a funding boost from the Trudeau government, which announced Thursday an extra $750 million for transit services across Canada that saw ridership dip during the pandemic.
Speaking to council Thursday, Mayor John Tory welcomed the news.
"It brings us some distance along on the transit part of this," he said.
"As members will know, the transit part is a significant part, but by no means all of the shortfall that we have."
The total 2022 operating budget, which pays for day-to-day expenses like transit, police and parks, is $14.99 billion. The 10-year capital budget, which funds infrastructure projects, is $46.61 billion.
The average cost of $141 to homeowners comes from two areas: $93 from a residential property tax increase of 2.9 per cent, plus $48 from a 1.5 per cent increase to the "city building" levy that pays for housing and transportation. The average home in Toronto is pegged at around $697,000.
Small business owners, on the other hand, are getting what many say is a much-needed 15 per cent property tax reduction, given the stress the pandemic has put on their bottom lines.
"For council to have taken this on at a time, quite frankly, where they had their own financial challenges, it is something that is a move in the right direction," said John Kiru, who heads the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas.
Budget 'good and responsible,' Tory says
Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Tory said council was voting on a "COVID-19-era budget," saying the pandemic has put considerable pressure on critical services and delivery costs.
"I strongly believe this is a good and responsible budget for the city," said Tory during a news conference.
Tory's critics, however, said the city should spend more to deal with serious issues, including affordable housing, public transit infrastructure and climate change.
On Wednesday, 59 Toronto-based organizations made an urgent call to Tory and councillors to re-evaluate some of the spending in this year's budget. The organizations, including the Toronto & York Region Labour Council and TTCriders, said the budget limits potential revenues and increases spending on police while underfunding critical programs and services.
The groups also said the city is moving too slowly on strategies and frameworks that council has already endorsed.
"Of the many things missing from the budget, the most glaring is a sense of urgency and a commitment by the city to do everything within its powers to build the Toronto we need and deserve," the organizations wrote in a statement.
The budget also faced some pushback from Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, one of the more conservative voices on council. He said some residents will have concerns over the size of property tax increase, even though COVID-19 has starved the city of revenue and Toronto has one of the lower property tax rates in the GTA.
"This is like a wartime budget," he said. "But I think as we move forward we have to move toward peacetime spending."
Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park, was another critic. He tried to get council to divert $10 million from the $1.1-billion police budget, which is rising by two per cent, and spend it on initiatives to help people experiencing homelessness.
"Specifically, I think it is more important to give the police 99 per cent of what they asked for and to house an additional 1,000 people," said Perks. His motion did not succeed.
Some motions that did pass garnered funding for:
- Expanded violence intervention in hospitals.
- More bylaw officers.
- Menstrual supplies at shelters.
- An end to fines at the Toronto Public Library.
- A seniors' digital literacy project in Toronto Community Housing.
- Lighting at the Christie Pits skateboard park.
Other successful motions involved advocacy, such as:
- Calling on the provincial and federal governments to hammer out a deal on child care.
- Calling on the province to change the legislation that requires police officers under criminal investigation to be suspended with pay.
The budget also included $135 million in new investments, including money to hire new 62 front-line paramedics, expand sidewalk snow clearing across the city and restore TTC service to pre-pandemic levels.
with files from Paula Duhatschek