Council passes 2016 budget with 1.3% property tax hike

City council has voted to adopt the 2016 operating budget, which includes a 1.3 per cent property tax hike, but voted against motions aimed at reducing the money allocated to police by millions of dollars.

Before final vote, councillors defeated motions aimed at reducing police budget

Toronto Mayor John Tory says it's his job to find the balance between spending above the rate of inflation and indiscriminately cutting services. (CBC)

City council voted Wednesday to approve a $10.1 billion budget for 2016, which includes a 1.3 per cent property tax hike, but it voted against reducing the $1 billion police budget.

After voting on several amendments late Wednesday evening, council adopted the budget by a vote of 33 to 9. Three councillors, Rob Ford, Norm Kelly and Frank Di Giorgio, were not present in council chambers for the final vote.

As councillors extended the debate over the 2016 operating budget late into Wednesday evening in order to send it to a final vote, they defeated four motions from Coun. Michael Thompson that would have siphoned between $12 million and $24 million from the $1 billion allocated to the Toronto Police Service.

However, councillors did support a motion put forward by Thompson calling for quick adoption of recommendations in a KPMG report on policing reform and spending.

Budget invests in transit, emergency services

"Today, city council approved a balanced budget that invests in priority areas like transit, emergency services and supporting our most vulnerable citizens," Mayor John Tory said in a statement late Wednesday. "This budget also holds city council to the same kind of restraint and responsibility that the people of Toronto exercise at home, by keeping property taxes below the rate of inflation."

The property tax increase, along with an additional 0.6% to fund the Scarborough subway, translates into homeowners paying an extra $72.26 a year. 

The 2016 budget provides funding for several new services, including:

• $8 million to help reduce poverty, enhance cold-weather drop-in services, expand of the student nutrition program and additional funding for childcare subsidies.

• $5.5 million to support the Mayor's Task Force on Community Housing.

• Early Sunday morning subway service, connecting bus and streetcar service and improved streetcar reliability

Council also approved a 2016-2025 budget of $21 billion.

"The city is focused on building the necessary social and physical infrastructure to support Toronto's growth and maintain the city's aging infrastructure in a state of good repair," said Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer Rob Rossini.

Earlier Wednesday,Tory said that next year's police budget will be "significantly different." On Tuesday, he announced the formation of an expert task force aimed at modernizing the force's operations and reducing costs.

'Real change' in police budget next year

"We're going to bring about reform. There's going to be real change. Even the police chief, himself, has said next year's budget will look very different from this year's. I agree with him. That's what we're setting out to do," Tory told reporters.

However, the mayor said he would not accept "an arbitrary, meat cleaver approach that would result, make no mistake, in the reduction of hundreds of police officers on the street."

"Do we have a responsible plan to make sure next year's police budget looks significantly different than this year's? Yes, we do."

On Tuesday, Thompson criticized the force for what he said were runaway costs, particularly in overtime and other initiatives, and said he is "unwilling to accept the concept that simply this year's not possible, next year it is, maybe."

But Coun. Shelley Carroll said reining in the police budget could take more than a year.

"I know Coun. Thompson would like to see a savings of $25 million right now," Carroll told reporters at city hall Wednesday afternoon. "I think it's going to take a couple of years to get there."

Police Chief Mark Saunders, who spoke to reporters at police headquarters earlier Wednesday, said slashing the police budget by $24 million would result in close to 400 jobs lost. 
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says slashing the police budget by $25 million would result in close to 400 jobs lost. (CBC)

"If you want serious, drastic cuts, then we have to remodel," he said. "It has to be done properly."

But Thompson noted that both Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle are on the new task force.

"I have great reservations with respect to both of their abilities," Thompson said Wednesday afternoon.

His motions weren't aimed at allowing crime rates to explode across the city, he said.

"What we do know is that we have to arrest the police budget, and it's my particular view that at this point, it's out of control," he said.


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