If Torontonians must receive a second property tax bill, they will known in clear terms that Premier Doug Ford and his big mid-year budget cuts are the reason why, city councillors are warning.
A Star survey of councillors Wednesday found no appetite for any service cuts or a tax hike on top of the hike passed in March, amid hopes Ford will respond to a pressure campaign led by Mayor John Tory and cancel cuts the city estimates at $178 million this year.
But, if the city is forced to reopen the 2019 budget and increase the annual hit on taxpayers, it should be clearly labelled as “Doug Ford’s tax,” said Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 6 Parkdale-High Park).
Others said any resulting cuts to city services, made to decrease the size of an extra tax hike, should also be clearly branded as the fault of Ford and his Progressive Conservative government.
Councillor Shelley Carroll said any second tax bill “would have to come with a broad media strategy, including materials accompanying the tax bill illustrating why the province removed $177 million from Toronto’s approved 2019 budget without notice.”
Councillor Mike Colle favours the “Provincial Download Tax.”
“There is no way we can make it up, we’re already five months into the year. How else can we get this kind of money to keep these services going,” said Colle (Ward 8 Eglinton-Lawrence).
The city manager says limited information provided by the Ford government suggests downloading will cost Toronto $177.65 million in 2019, with many cuts retroactive to April 1.
The hits including $84.8 million for children’s services — jeopardizing more than 6,000 subsidized daycare spaces for low-income parents — and $65 million from the budget of Toronto Public Health which provides services including free breakfasts for children from low-income families.
The Ford government insists the city manager’s figures are inflated and the city should be able to cover the tens of millions of dollars in cuts through efficiencies.
One city councillor — Michael Ford, the premier’s nephew — agrees with Ford.
“I don’t support sending a new tax bill out at all,” the Ward 1 Etobicoke North representative told the Star. “It’s not necessary. Look at the latest auditor general report — millions upon millions of dollars (in potential savings) are in there.
“On child-care there a recommendation that could save us $30 million and we haven’t acted on it. There’s a lot of room there to find savings.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said the “Doug Ford Tax Increase” would come with an information package in simple language explaining why Toronto property owners need to dip into their wallets again.
If Ford refuses to back down, and council must debate between deep service cuts and a second tax hike, Wong-Tam said she’ll vote for a hike.
“Unless we plan to stop building community centres, stop building child-care facilities and stop delivering public health, essential services … I for one, would support maintaining those service levels,” she said.
In early March council approved a property tax hike, including a surcharge for transit and housing, totalling 3.58 per cent, or an extra $104 for a total bill of $3,020 of an average $665,605 home.
Based on city figures, passing all of Ford’s cuts straight to the tax bill could add another 4.5 per cent on top of the first hike, bringing the total increase for an average home to more than $270 higher over last year’s tab.
It wouldn’t be a one-time hit because any future hikes would be on top of the new level. Also, the cuts would be deeper in 2020, over the full year, than in 2019 when they didn’t hit until April 1.
Here is what some other councillors said:
- Councillor Paul Ainslie (Ward 24 Scarborough-Guildwood) would want bold letters stating: “We have to increase the approved property tax rate due to increased financial costs placed on us by the provincial government with little and in some case NO notice.”
- Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 5 York South—Weston) said taxpayers could be told the reason for a second hit “as a notification inserted in the tax bill that residents receive.”
- Councillor Cynthia Lai (Ward 23 Scarborough North) agreed residents need to know why taxes are being increased, although she isn’t exactly sure how it should be done. “It’s only speculation now. I’m glad the media has picked up on it — to send a message to the province that they only have one taxpayer,” she said.
- Councillor Jim Karygiannis (Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt) said residents should know the reason for a second bill, potentially naming specific cuts such as planning changes that could lead to reduced revenue for Toronto. He doesn’t want to name Doug Ford, however.
- Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina Fort York) said Ford must reverse his “unsustainable” downloading. If that doesn’t happen, “there will certainly be Ford cuts or Ford taxes and we will brand them as such.”
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF