Toronto’s 2020 budget — which funds everything from the number of police officers on the street to sidewalk snowclearing — is headed for a final debate at city council in the coming days.
With all the back and forth, it can be easy to get lost in the numbers, so here is what you need to know.
Mayor John Tory is banking on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fill a $77-million gap in this year’s budget after his executive committee signed off on that plan Thursday. That money would help the city provide housing and services for refugees, but it’s funding that is not yet guaranteed in the upcoming federal budget.
Tory and council are currently relying on the federal and provincial governments to help them meet the city’s goals of building 18,000 new supportive housing units in the midst of a housing crisis; increasing the number of subsidized child care spaces in a city that ranks among the most expensive in the country; and fulfilling a plan to tackle gun violence as young people continue to be shot and killed. None of that funding has yet been promised.
“I will say that I received and heard a lot of positive comments and I realize that I can’t take those to the bank,” Tory told reporters in his office on Thursday ahead of a budget meeting and following a recent trip to Ottawa to meet with Trudeau, cabinet ministers and Toronto caucus members.
“I’m going to keep at this. I’ve said I’m going to be relentless in pressing for this money because I think it’s an appropriate investment for the government of Canada to make and the government of Ontario.”
On Thursday, Tory’s hand-picked executive committee — an inner circle of councillors that includes budget chief Gary Crawford — agreed with the mayor’s plan to bank on funding that has yet to be pledged.
The $13.53-billion operating budget includes $11.59 billion that’s largely supported by the city’s property tax base, with the rest supported by fees for water, garbage collection and parking. It was forwarded to council for approval next week with the $77-million gap for sheltering refugees remaining, as well as a lack of spending to meet previously approved goals on housing, child care and gun violence.
Council made a similar decision in 2019, asking the federal government to cover a $45-million shortfall for refugee services. That smaller request was later met.
Key plans that council has previously approved remain partially unfunded in this budget.
They include creating 18,000 new supportive housing units over 10 years to transition those who are chronically homeless out of the city’s more expensive shelter system. The 2020 budget only funds 600 of this year’s 1,800-unit target, with council calling on other levels of governments to fund the rest.
Provincial budget cuts shook city hall last year, though most of the gaps created by those decisions have been plugged — for now.
Premier Doug Ford’s government earlier announced it would cut its funding for the expansion of child care from 100 per cent to 80 per cent, a $15-million blow to the city’s 2020 budget. One-time funds from the province to bridge those cuts were provided after much protest, reducing the gap to $2.8 million. The remainder is being covered by the city so that all of the planned subsidies are funded.
However, in order to keep up with the city’s strategy to create subsidized child care spaces, it would need to find another $15 million to fund an additional 3,000 subsidies next year.
In 2018, council committed to a plan to combat gun violence that was expected to cost more than $50 million, and which relied entirely on other levels of government to fund it. Today, $26.2 million in community-based programs remain unfunded. The city has not been able to significantly close that gap.
Crawford’s budget committee added new spending to the budget earlier in the process, decreasing the amount being banked in a rainy day reserve fund.
The budget, as approved by Tory’s executive on Thursday, fails to fund a handful of new initiatives requested by city divisions and agencies, like the $5.1 million requested by Toronto Public Library to substantially expand its operating hours.
Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4 Parkdale-High Park) pointed out that the city has the means to meet its own targets, even without help from other governments.
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On Wednesday, as councillors discussed council’s supportive housing goal, Perks laid out the math to show that the city could meet that goal now by asking residents for about $200 more on their property tax bill.
“It is completely doable even if the other governments don’t come to the table,” Perks said.
As approved by the executive committee, the average residential property tax bill would be $3,141 in 2020, an increase of $128.
Executive also approved the updated 10-year, $43.5-billion capital budget, which funds infrastructure projects. It includes $2.2 billion to rebuild and repair the aging Gardiner Expressway, the single biggest cost in the transportation division’s capital plan.
Council meets Feb. 19 to finalize the budget.