Your tax dollars at work.
Today is budget day at City Hall, and the mood is grim but determined. In the face of rising unemployment, swelling welfare rolls, and glum economic forecasts, the rock of weakening revenue and the hard place of increasing social service costs are squeezing the City hard. In a press conference this morning, Mayor David Miller and Budget Committee Chair Shelley Carroll reassured the public that no major service cuts were on the table and that many planned improvements (such as the Tower Renewal program, various environmental initiatives, and TTC upgrades) were going ahead as planned. Miller made a point of contextualizing the pressures the City faces, lambasting the federal government for failing to expand EI eligibility requirements, and reminding us that the hangover of Mike Harris’s welfare offloading is being felt to this day.
The highlight reel: the balanced budget accommodates increased costs in four primary areas—TTC improvements, police services, snow clearing, and welfare payments—via $102 million in savings and efficiencies and a 4 per cent residential property tax hike. The widely anticipated tax increase was described by Miller as “modest” and a way to make sure that “we each pay what we can to ensure that no one—your neighbour, your co-worker, even your family—gets left behind.” TTC fares have been frozen, and user fee increases will be capped at the rate of inflation. The City is also rolling out a series of initiatives meant to help residents in dire economic straits. In addition to expanded property tax relief (an additional 22,000 households are expected to be eligible) and an enhanced Rent Bank, a set of services for job-seekers was unveiled yesterday.
Today’s budget announcement will be followed up by two days of hearings on February 17-18; the budget will be put to a vote on March 31.