T.O. has first balanced budget since amalgamation
After a slew of new taxes and a proposed property tax hike, the city has come up with its first balanced budget since amalgamation.
Toronto Mayor David Miller and Budget Chief Shelley Carroll made the announcement at a news conference Monday morning, launching a $10,000 public awareness campaign.
Carroll said a balanced operating budget ensures Torontonians will get services.
"Today we know what services we can provide," Carroll said. "We know how we'll pay for them together. We know that our community centres, our libraries and our transit system will continue to serve the public."
Miller said several new initiatives by the city and the province's $188 million investment in transit and social services made the balanced budget possible.
Aside from the provincial investment, the city is receiving additional revenue from a new land transfer tax and vehicle registration tax imposed on Torontonians late last year. Residents will also have to pay more to put out their garbage.
The mayor has proposed a residential property tax increase of 3.75 per cent and 1.25 per cent for non-residential properties.
For a home that costs $365,000, that means an annual property tax increase of about $80 for the homeowner.
"People in the Toronto think they are overtaxed but the numbers don't show that," Coun. Joe Pantalone told CTV Toronto. "The numbers show they're paying less than residents living in the 905."
According to the numbers:
- Toronto homeowners pay 0.8 per cent - about $2,900 -- on an average home assessed at $350,000
- Mississauga and Vaughan homeowners pay about 1 per cent -- $3,600 -- on a $350,000 home
- Pickering residents pay 1.3 per cent which equals about $4,500
Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion said Torontonians should realize they've been getting a good deal.
"It won't (continue) if you want services to continue," she told CTV Toronto. "Our people don't want a reduction in services."
Tax increase over inflation rate
Nonetheless, critics of the mayor said the city is not any closer to properly managing their finances.
Kevin Gaudet, the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said Miller broke a campaign promise not to raise taxes over the rate of inflation.
"The mayor has a peculiar definition of what is in line with inflation when it's almost double the rate of inflation," he told reporters at city hall.
Coun. Karen Stintz said in total, Torontonians have seen a significant tax increase much higher than 3.75 per cent.
"When you take into consideration the land transfer tax, the vehicle registration tax, the garbage tax, the vehicle user fees and the property tax, really what the tax payer is facing is closer to a 20-percent tax increase this year," she told CTV Toronto.
Coun. Denzil Minnan Wong, a vocal critic of the mayor on council, said he's happy with the money but warned that the city got off easy this time around, especially because of the province's gift.
"It doesn't create an incentive for the budget committee or the executive committee to come to the table to find savings," he said.
The city has been trying to tighten its purse strings to ease the burden of its enormous financial debt.
Here is how the city managed to cover its $615 million shortfall:
- $78 million was taken from last year's surplus
- $188 million from the provincial government
- $175 million from new taxation measures
- $101 million will be generated with the property tax increase along with assessment growth.
- $73 million will come from other cost containment measures
Miller said the city is still in talks with the police union and the TTC but he warned there is not much room for negotiation. He also said the city could find itself in trouble if a recession hits Toronto.
According to the budget, the city will spend up to 4 per cent more than last year, spending $8.2 billion. The result will be 100 more buses for the public and an improved waste diversion plan.
Among some of the new initiatives in the city's budget is a million-dollar stingray exhibit at the Toronto Zoo and $3.5 million to improve street furniture.
Councillors and residents will both have a chance to view the budget and make suggestions for additional savings.
On Feb. 5, the city will hear deputations from the public and then city councillors will have a chance to approve the budget in the beginning of April.
With reports from CTV Toronto's Alicia Kay-Markson and Naomi Parness