Toronto’s 2013 budget’s marathon public hearings started off Monday morning, Dec. 10, with kudos from some members of the city’s business community, renewed calls for an end to the Land Transfer Tax from realtors, and calls to maintain and enhance funding for the arts, preserve firefighter and EMS strength and various other areas.
The $9.4 billion operating and capital budgets are up for debate in January.
The two days of public hearings Monday and Tuesday are the public’s only opportunity to have input into the proposed budget.
On the table is a budget that sees a 1.95 per cent property tax increase to homeowners, with reductions to police, firefighting and EMS, and a massive expenditure on transportation — including a $636 million budget to repair and rehabilitate the crumbling Gardiner Expressway.
This year, budget chair Mike Del Grande kicked off the public hearings by maintaining a rolling tally of the budget impact of implementing various requests from members of the public and lobby groups.
By the lunch break, Del Grande had identified spending increases he said would lead to a total 35 per cent tax increase.
“We lose track of what it is that people want and what the cost is going to be,” said Del Grande.
“If you do want this, that’s good for you but at the end of the day it’s a long way from 1.95 per cent,” he said.
Other councillors pointed out that Del Grande’s argument was flawed, in that he tallied all the requests for the budget — including a request from the Toronto Real Estate Board, to get rid of the land transfer tax.
That alone would mean a 13.7 per cent property tax increase according to Del Grande’s figures.
“Nobody’s saying keep services at the rate of inflation and cutting the land transfer tax,” said Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks.
“And if you’re advocating for restoring services, that’s about $300 million. That works out to be not much more than what we find in surplus almost every year. Toronto is in a position where we could maintain services without blended property tax rates.”
The committee, meanwhile, heard a range of deputations.
Carol Wilding, president and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade, offered general support to the budget.
“We are encouraged council and staff are continuing to face up to the city’s fiscal reality — the city is backing away from its own version of a fiscal cliff,” said Wilding.
Faye Lyons of the Canadian Automobile Association supported the plan to ramp up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway and other roads.
“We are now seeing the results from years of delay and neglect on the Gardiner Expressway,” she said. “The CAA believes that this committee needs to remain committed to staff recommendations.”
Not everyone agreed.
Perks argued the city shouldn’t be funding major road repairs and reconstructions through direct taxation.
“We are having across-the-board cuts in every operating department in Toronto so that we can pay cash to do road repairs that we have never been told are necessary,” he said.
Meanwhile, the committee heard from members of the arts community, urging council to put the $29 million a year in billboard revenue back into arts, recreation and public health funding.
Deputations continued on Monday and will resume on Tuesday.