It's been a busy few weeks at City Hall and I wanted to share some key highlights from the most recent City Council meeting, in which the 2017 budget was set. Please see below.
Property tax rates
City Council approved a 2.1% property tax increase (at the rate of inflation). While city finance staff had suggested a reduction or elimination of some services such as street sweeping, City Council approved a budget that maintains and improves current City services.
Some people continue to say that Toronto has the lowest property taxes in the GTA. This is not true, and while I often receive calls regarding how high property taxes are, I don’t receive any asking that taxes be raised more. After making inquiries on your behalf, City finance staff presented information this year that dispels the misinformation. They have reviewed the assessed values of equal homes in Toronto and the other GTA municipalities and established that although Toronto’s tax rate is lower than most, comparable homes in Toronto pay higher taxes due to substantially higher assessed values of houses and condominiums in Toronto.
You should be receiving your property tax bill soon. The amount of taxes that you pay are based on the MPAC assessed value as per provincial legislation and includes the provincial levy for education - which makes up almost half of your property taxes.
Solid Waste Services
City staff in the solid waste management division once again recommended cuts to the solid waste rebate program. While I did not support this recommendation, it was passed by Council, reducing the medium and large bin rebates and entirely eliminating it for extra-large bins. The small bin and bag only rebates remain unchanged from last year.
Supporting our libraries
Some residents wrote to me regarding the budget for our public libraries. I fully support the important role Toronto Public Libraries play in our neighbourhoods and for the people of Toronto. I voted to increase library funding, and I'm pleased that the majority of my fellow councillors did the same. I'm also looking forward to seeing our new library facilities take shape as part of the new Bessarion Community Centre, with the passing of the 2017 budget, staff are suggesting that construction could begin later this year.
Childcare costs in the City of Toronto are among the highest in all of Canada, which creates a very difficult financial challenge for many families. Provincial funding to operate childcare spaces falls far short of what families need, so for many years the City has stepped in to maintain and expand the number of childcare spaces in Toronto. That’s why I, along with nearly all of my colleagues, voted to maintain the occupancy grant and approved investments in childcare to create 300 new subsidized spaces.
Toronto Wildlife Centre
A number of you contacted my office to express your support for the Toronto Wildlife Centre with their request for a grant from the City to help with the construction of a new hospital for wildlife. I supported this and was pleased to see it approved as part of the budget. In addition, Council approved a recommendation to ask the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), its member municipalities, the Toronto Wildlife Centre, and the Provincial and Federal Governments to establish a Toronto Region Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.
Re-imagining Yonge St
City staff recommended that Yonge Street be reduced from Sheppard Ave. north to Bishop Ave. from three lanes to two, including widened sidewalks and construction of separated bike lanes. As a result, there would be no parking at any time on both sides of Yonge Street in this section. I met staff on many occasions and asked several questions: what the width of the current paved sidewalks are and what were they proposing; how they expected to redirect the traffic coming south in the morning and north in the evening onto the incomplete ring road system; how they would deal with additional transient traffic into the residential streets; where the short term parking would be for patrons of the many small shops on Yonge; and why bike lanes couldn’t be installed on the ring roads. I didn’t receive complete answers and had difficulty supporting a plan that would end the bike lanes at the busy Finch Bus terminal, leaving cyclists wishing to ride further up Yonge Street in the HOV Bus lane.
The 2017 budget for the design work of this 2.1km stretch was $4 million. The construction work is not included in the 5 year capital budget, however it had already escalated from $41 million to $47 million.
The Mayor and a majority of my colleagues supported deferring the project to the 2018 budget process, as well as reporting on the installation of bike lanes this year on the ring roads. The project has not been cancelled and Council will still consider going forward with it. Information on the proposal can be found at: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=a331edb9b72d3510VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD. I would like to hear your thoughts.
Municipal Land Transfer Tax
Council approved the harmonization of the Municipal Land Transfer Tax with the current Ontario rates. I voted against the proposal, as I believe that homeowners are already being stretched enough by their taxes.
The result is in an increase from 2% to 2.5% for homes worth over $2M. Homes over $400K but less than $2M will remain at 2%. For homes valued between $250K and $400K, the rate will increase from 1% to 1.5%. This will create an estimated additional revenue of $85M for the City.
The changes will also include an increase in the rebate for first time homebuyers from $3,725 to $4,000 to bring it in line with the province.
I voted to continue support of our public transportation network and the crucial investments being made to improve service and reduce delays. This year’s budget included an increase in the TTC operating subsidy of $26 million along with a capital budget of $1.1 billion. Since 2014, Council has increased the TTC operating subsidy by $152 million, a 39% total increase.
I did not support the staff recommendation to reduce the frequency of street sweeping for our roads. It's an often overlooked service, but is essential to keeping our neighbourhoods clean of dust and debris, especially given all the construction activity occurring in Willowdale and across the city. The 2017 budget maintains the existing service level.