After weeks of consultations and tweaks, Toronto city council has approved its budget that will see a 4.24 per cent increase in property taxes for homeowners.
The City’s finances are divided into the $13.5 billion operating budget for the fiscal year and $43.5 billion for 10-year capital plans. This year, the city is increasing funding for transit, affordable housing, and public safety. Funding for both areas comes primarily from property taxes.
The 2020 budget will raise property taxes by two per cent. Combined with council’s earlier decision to increase the special property tax levy for the City Building Fund and other adjustments, the average Toronto homeowner with an assessed value of $703,000, will pay about $128 more on their bills.
Speaking ahead of the special meeting, Mayor John Tory acknowledged the increase could be difficult for some Toronto residents. But he said it was a balanced and measured approach which recognizes the city’s needs.
“We’re also doing things to make life more affordable,” said Tory.
He cited free transit for children 12 and under, a low-income transit pass, and long-term investments into affordable housing as a strong reason behind the decision. Tory also said that efficiencies found in the budget prevented much larger increases, pointing to a seven-per-cent tax hike in Vancouver.
During the consultation process following the budget launch, criticisms about a lack of programming to reduce youth violence, lead to an adjustment by the mayor. Tory said the funding was inadequate, which is why $6 million was needed for youth hubs and other programming.
Still, many councillors are looking for more money to cover issues left unaddressed. Several councillors have cited the need for the reintroduction of a vehicle registration tax. City staff said a vehicle tax would raise an extra $55 million a year for the city. Conversely, the funds raised by a one-per-cent property tax increase, is $30 million a year.
The City is required to keep its spending within the parameters of its operating budget, so councillors begin the budget debate by going over potential adjustments to the tax rate. When that is set, they will begin to set spending for programs.
Those observing this year’s debate will note it was much more civil than previous years. Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said the absence of hot tempers is due in part to tax increases providing funding for key areas.
“It took years for us to get there and hopefully this is just the beginning of us very intelligently addressing the long-term sustainability and growth of the City,” said Wong-Tam.
Not everyone is pleased by the way the budget played out. Councillor James Pasternak, a member of the Mayor’s executive committee, abstained from the vote on property taxes.
In a statement to Global News, Pasternak said he promised his ward he wouldn’t vote in favour of tax hikes above the rate of inflation. While he didn’t support an increase, Pasternak stopped short of voting against Tory.