City of Toronto's Budget: Keep Counting 'Till It Hurts
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City of Toronto’s Budget: Keep Counting ‘Till It Hurts

Toronto's movie mayor explains where he thinks all of your damn money goes.

Where the budget magic happens  Photo by Dan Cronin from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Where the budget magic happens. Photo by Dan Cronin from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The exact circumference of Telly Savalas’ head. The correct pronunciation of the word “tchotchke”. How a grape knows which kind of wine to become. Why no one can say “Bloor” without smirking.

These and other mysteries may have plagued mankind for millennia or moments, but they pale in comparison to the septic stench of fiscal confusion that is the City of Toronto’s finances.

From comptrollers to con men, from accountants to real estate touts, from $ to ?, how and how much money the City gathers, records, disguises, disperses, and moans about has defied human understanding—until now.

As your mayor, it is my job to understand the blood (revenue), as well as the bile (expenditures). Money in, money out, but along the way, it’s E=MC2 meets Hieronymus Bosch. Let me try to explain it all to you.

A slovenly bub’s bungalow or a rich bastard’s ego-acre, it matters not—everyone pays property tax, which generates the largest and most mouth-watering share of the City’s income. Property assessment is based on an age-old formula:

square footage + eavestrough heft X street snootiness ratio + annual number of toilet flushes = your tax bill

It may not make sense, but it does make money.

Businesses and industrial concerns—from the Grand Trunk Railroad Shirt Cardboard Co., to the Pape Avenue Phrenology Clinic; and from the salamander oozeries to the Parcheesi parlours that line Toronto’s carefree crescents and puckish promenades—all pay the City a flat $42 per annum, which seems fair.

Once the money arrives from citizen or corporation at the Dufferin Street Counting and Skimming Pavilion (at it does in crumpled bills, greasy cheques, and teeth-marked silver dollars), it is cleaned, sorted, fondled, and ooh-ed over for several days.

Then, and only then, are the funds counted by a squad of angry Scottish schoolmarms, the most trustworthy and ruthless in the land.

The final tally is written in chalk, as was done in ancient times, on the back wall of City Hall, where it is photographed, and mulled over for several weeks.

At last, the august body known at the Toronto Sinking Fund Secretariat meets over roast beef sandwiches to divvy it all up.

Cops’ billy clubs, streetcar track lubrication, the hydrant laureate’s office, and the Works Department employees’ attendance at the annual World Asphalt Auction in Montenegro account for somewhere between three and 68 per cent of our annual expenditures, depending on exchange rates and the vagaries of nepotism.

With the little that’s left over, we have to keep Toronto humming as reliably as a Leafs fan during the third stanza of “O Canada.” Have we succeeded in managing this great metropolis’ ebbs and flows? Only time, and the efforts of exceedingly bored archeologists in the year 2173, will be able to answer that question.

As for the taxation system itself, could it be better? Fairer? Less reliant on abacuses? Sure. But just as your pancreas might greatly benefit from a bit of sunlight and a thorough scrubbing, you really don’t want to open things up to make that happen.