Will council try to have its cake and eat it too?
It’s the big day, everyone. Today City Council must finalize its most challenging budget in years, reconciling promises of low taxes and promises of better services. If previous committee meetings are any guide, there are several struggles shaping up. Here’s our guide of what to expect.
The Big Picture
City manager Peter Wallace has, frankly, been a total buzzkill, uttering dire warnings about storm clouds and icebergs and the Great Old Ones1 and whatnot. As he writes in his report, all this budget does is kick the can down the road until it’s someone else’s problem:
However, the 2016 BC Recommended Tax Supported Operating Budget is reliant on the assumption the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT) stabilizing at the 2015 actual level or increased by $100.5 million from the 2015 Approved Operating Budget, one-time revenue sources such as dividends and reserve contributions as well as a $11.2 million in unidentified reductions to be allocated across the City’s Programs and Agencies. The 2016 BC Recommended Operating Budget has not addressed the City’s fundamental fiscal challenges or risks. Therefore, 2016 is a transition year to a more material discussion which must be held with City Council prior to the 2017 Budget process with the goal of achieving a sustainable fiscal plan.
“Unidentified reductions”? Could you, uh, be more specific?
…a spending freeze on discretionary expenditures, including but not limited to business travel; conferences, consulting contracts; purchase of equipment, furniture, supplies; advertising, promotion and production of materials except where it is critically required for service delivery… 2
Nevertheless, everyone has their pet item to get into the budget. Here’s what’s most likely to impact your life and/or provoke some heated debates.
What To Expect
Garbage: The extra-large garbage bin is going to be phased out eventually, and the rebate could be cut in half (from $110 to $56)—some councillors do not like this one bit. The rebates for all the other bin sizes and bags will be decreasing slightly, about $1 per bag per month.
Municipal Land Transfer Tax: In order to squeeze a little more money out of the lucrative tax, the City will be tacking on a $75 fee for each MLTT transaction to recover an additional cost in property lookup fees. At least one councillor will probably give a grandstanding speech about how it is pricing people out of their homes.
The City Building Fund: Mayor John Tory proposed a new fund dedicated to housing and transit infrastructure, in a move widely perceived as a concession to Team #PayingForStuff—albeit largely symbolic. As with everything at City Hall, it’s not a done deal; first, staff have to figure out how exactly it’s all going to work.
Revenue tools: There’s also a request for a report on how profitable the City’s tax increment financing program is, and another to research a wide range of revenue tools. (The last report the City commissioned was back in 2007—it’s a little out of date.)
The police budget: Tackling this billion-dollar behemoth is difficult and politically unpopular. The recommended operating budget asks for a $3 million cut (once again, in those tricky unidentified reductions), and several councillors would like to see it reduced even further. Now TPS is making last-ditch moves to sell Council on a budget increase. Police Chief Mark Saunders even made the unusual move of personally lobbying councillors at their offices.
Pet items: Everyone’s got one; there’s plenty of fodder for behind-the-scenes bargaining. James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre) has his heart set on extending Toronto Public Health’s Student Nutrition Program to faith-based private schools. A faith-based school debate at John Tory’s city hall? That will go over well. Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) will stop at nothing to achieve Toronto’s tree canopy goal, even if it means raiding important reserve funds only vaguely related to the urban forest. Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) could suddenly develop great concern for low-income seniors in his ward and propose programs that already exist. After all, he’s done it in the past. Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York) is campaigning for 350 more subsidized childcare spaces. And so on.
It all starts at 9:30 a. m. We’ll be liveblogging from the room where it happens.
- The revenu͘e҉ t̨o̵o͢l̵s!́ US̕҉E ̧͜͟T̵ ̶͡H̸̛ ҉E ̀͘M҉…before t̶͘͏h̡͝e͠͞҉ ̡͠͞b͏̧̀͘l̴̸̢͢͟o͡o̢͢͡ḑ̀͟ ͡t͟͟h̵̕͏̛ȩ͘͠ ̴͠҉͞b̶́l̨̕͢͜o̶͜͜҉ơ͘ḑ̀̕͘͜ f͟is̴c̕al̢ i͢t̛’̷̷́s̸̡͢ ̵t́o͝o͘͘ ̸͢͞la̡͝t̛҉͟e̛ R҉̵́ ̴̛͘͞Ù̸͟ ̷́҉Ņ̶̢ ↩
- This led to a few of us budget nerds, in a lull during a committee meeting, doing back-of-the-napkin calculations to figure out how many pencils would have to be cut from the budget to buy an acre of parkland. It’s…a lot. ↩