Corp Comm Connects

‘We simply cannot afford it’: Tory says city has no plans to further extend grace period for property taxes
May 13, 2020
Joshua Freeman

With a grace period for property taxes and utilities set to end this week, Mayor John Tory said Tuesday that the city cannot afford another extension.

“We discussed extending the grace period. I will just tell you in the spirit of honesty that it would simply magnify our already grave financial problems,” Tory told reporters at his daily briefing Tuesday. “So the answer at the present time is no.”

As part of a slew of measures to help people suffering financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying shutdown, the city announced a 60-day grace period in March for property tax and utility bill payments and late penalties.

That grace period is set to end on Friday, May 15, though people will not have to make their April payment until June 1.

Tory said he realizes that the new deadline might still be difficult for those facing financial hardship, but he said the city, which is facing a serious budgetary shortfall because of the pandemic, has no other option.

“We studied the option of trying to defer this for an additional period of time and we simply cannot afford it,” Tory said. “We’re in a situation where we are already facing, for example without help from the other governments, a 30 per cent increase in taxes. That’s why even contemplating that is not on the table.”

Tory’s office clarified to that while a 30 per cent property tax increase is roughly what would be required to make up for the city’s shortfall due to the pandemic, the mayor sees that option as “unacceptable.”

Tory said nor is it an option to slash services like transit, childcare and parks.

“So the answer for the moment has to be no because we just can’t afford it. I’m just being straightforward and honest. I wish I could say yes to that but I can’t,” Tory said.

The city has projected that in a best-case scenario, it will lose at least $1.5 billion in revenue this year because of the pandemic.

A report released by the TTC Tuesday projected that the transit service alone will lose $300 million by Labour Day, even with service cuts and other cost-cutting measures.

For days, Tory has been reiterating his call for the federal and provincial governments to come up with a substantial aid package for Canada’s cities.

By law in Ontario, municipalities are unable to run a deficit and Tory has said that serious help is needed from higher levels of government to see municipalities through the economic disaster from COVID-19.

The leaders of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area also reiterated their call Tuesday for the higher orders of government to come to the table with a plan for cities.

“As we look ahead to the restart and recovery phases, now is the time to ensure municipalities are not grappling with financial uncertainty,” the mayors and chairs said in the joint statement. “Given that our principal constitutional and practical relationship is with our provincial government, we are looking for Queen's Park to immediately initiate substantive discussions with us, with other Ontario municipalities, and with the federal government to take action to alleviate these financial difficulties. Doing nothing for cities is simply not an option.”