Tory’s first budget sails through council - garbage and water rates going up
Increases needed to keep property taxes at or below rate of inflation, councillors say.
March 11, 2015
By Jennifer Pagliaro
Following Mayor John Tory (open John Tory's policard)’s lead, council almost unanimously passed the first budget of the new term.
That unity, which left Councillor Rob Ford (open Rob Ford's policard) largely standing alone, saw the approval of one more staff person for each of the city’s watchdog offices - six fewer than the so-called “accountability officers” had requested.
As deliberations wrapped up Wednesday night with the watchdog jobs one of few flashpoints, Tory characterized his debut budget as “not too hot, not too cold” but “just right.”
“I think we achieved the balance that we are expected to achieve,” Tory said. “I think we’ve found a budget ... which hits that sweet spot between excessive tax increases, which this does not do, and a gutting of public services, which this does not do.”
But several councillors were unsettled about the challenge ahead. Council opted to have the city borrow from itself to help plug up an $86-million shortfall in the $9.973-billion operating budget, while keeping taxes below the rate of inflation - 2.75 per cent including the Scarborough subway levy.
Council also approved an 8 per cent water rate increase, and for a 3 per cent increase for garbage collection, while reducing the single family residential rebates for waste bins, effective April 1. “I think I would say, not hot, not cold, not bad,” Councillor Janet Davis (open Janet Davis's policard), a council progressive, said Wednesday night.
After the vote, Councillor Shelley Carroll (open Shelley Carroll's policard), budget chief under former mayor David Miller, said she is already concerned about next year’s budget.
“TTC alone has an opening pressure for 2016 of $71 million, not including any wage increases and any upward change in fuel prices,” Carroll said. “I wouldn’t call it satisfied. I’m very concerned.”
The budget was passed largely as recommended by the budget and executive committees, with several last-minute motions gaining approval with the blessing of budget chief Gary Crawford (open Gary Crawford's policard).
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Crawford said. “We have to take the discipline, the work that we’ve done over the past couple of months, and start applying that to not only next year but the next three years.”
“When you’re looking at some of the investments that we’ve created - over $100 million in investments going into the city in transit, in poverty reduction, safety, infrastructure, yeah, I think it’s an absolute win, because we’ve kept property taxes low and that was one of the goals we wanted to do at the very beginning.”
Ombudsman Fiona Crean, who has ruffled city hall feathers with several hard-hitting reports, said in an interview after the vote she asked for six extra staff last August when being hit with a “double whammy” - an “astronomical” increase in citizen complaints about city staff conduct, plus council adding city-run corporations and TTC special constables to her jurisdiction.
“One (new) position doesn’t touch what’s required,” Crean said. “Council has spoken, I respect council’s will, but its decision will adversely impact citizens getting timely and effective service.”
Council’s 39-4 vote gave one more position also to integrity commissioner Val Jepson, who had requested two.
Carroll said council has left the accountability officers short of resources, but Crawford sought to assure people that the watchdogs and their needed staff resources will be studied in the coming years.
Though Ford loaded the final day of deliberations with 31 motions, he won just two votes - to change the standard wording of requests for proposals and to request a report on the impact of city grants. Ford not only lost a bid to get rid of security guards at libraries, council reinstated previously recommended funding for those guards.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (open Kristyn Wong-Tam's policard) failed in a last-minute bid to reopen the debate on the $60 vehicle registration scrapped in 2011. The move to increase city revenues was shot down in a 14-30 vote.
Council approved a TTC chair Councillor Josh Colle (open Josh Colle's policard) motion to eliminate 25 positionsfrom the transit service’s budget, saving $2.5 million by 2016.
Earlier, council confirmed a move by Tory’s executive to restore to the budget other new positions for heritage and planning that had been stripped out at budget committee in a surprise motion by Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (open Michelle Berardinetti's policard).
Single families will pay an annual fee of $237.64 for a small bin, $288.49 for a medium and $391.80 for a large bin. Overall, the fees have jumped 58 per cent.
Politicians who supported the rate increases admit they were necessary to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation.
“You could call fees an indirect taxation, whether they’re based primarily on the user, that is the way that cities function,” said Councillor James Pasternak (open James Pasternak's policard), a member of the budget committee.
“That is very steep, and that is going to be very hard on many homeowners.” Council will review it in a year, he said.
But Toronto residents also have the lowest property taxes in the GTA, he added.
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong (open Denzil Minnan-Wong's policard) called the 50 cent a week increase “modest,” and that the money taken out of rebate is being used to fund other projects.
“Waste diversion is expensive, organic processing is over $100 a ton, and the costs are going up.”
He agreed it is a disingenuous to say council has kept taxes at the rate of inflation while dinging residents with higher fees.
“There are costs being spread in other ways to accommodate the additional costs to provide additional services.”
The cost of garbage collection will continue to increase because the city and its residents want to encourage more waste diversion, which is expensive, he said.