Canada The end of austerity? Torontonians get say on city budget

03:37  08 january  2018
03:37  08 january  2018 Source:   Toronto Star

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Public deputations Monday to Wednesday, across the city , are the public’s chance to sound off on city spending.

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It’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, but Sarah Climenhaga is eager to give Toronto councillors an earful about the 2018 budget.

The community activist, who plans to run against Mayor John Tory next October, can’t wait to tell budget committee members she is fed up with austerity budgets during public “deputations” starting Monday.

“I’m frustrated by the lack of funding for city-approved policies and strategies, and I’m upset that the needs of the people of Toronto are not in this budget,” said Climenhaga, who plans to make her pitch Wednesday with input, on video, from like-minded Torontonians.

“I’m going to tell the budget committee that they must fund all the policies and strategies that council has already approved. Torontonians should not have to fight over whether to fund poverty reduction, climate change, student nutrition or anti-black racism. This budget does not meet the needs of our city.”

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Others will express different opinions on the proposed almost $11-billion operating budget, a staff-prepared spending blueprint that would hike property taxes by 2.1 per cent but fail to fund almost $41.2 million in city council-approved programs and services.

Council’s budget chief Councillor Gary Crawford said he and Tory will support getting some — but not all — of those left-outs back into the budget.

Expenses they support include: time-based TTC transfers for Presto users ($11.1 million); poverty reduction initiatives ($10.9 million); congestion-fighting measures including traffic wardens (at least $2 million); TransformTO climate-change initiatives for 2018 ($2 million); the anti-black racism action plan ($995,400); and the new Indigenous office ($519,700).

Toronto opens two new warming centres for homeless residents

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Councillor Gary Crawford, Toronto city council's budget chief, says he and Mayor John Tory will support getting some — but not all — of the left-outs back into the 2018 budget.© David Rider Councillor Gary Crawford, Toronto city council's budget chief, says he and Mayor John Tory will support getting some — but not all — of the left-outs back into the 2018 budget.

Crawford would not identify a particular staff-proposed expense he will reject.

“Forty-one million dollars, it’s a lot of money, that’s almost a 2-per-cent property tax increase on its own,” he said. “We need to either increase our revenue or opportunities to bring down expenditures . . . There are lot of items on there that are ‘nice to haves’ and if we had all the money in the world, absolutely we could support them, but we need to look at what the real priorities of the city are and try to support those important priorities.”

Social Planning Toronto has a list of unfunded priorities for which it wants Torontonians to fight, including 1,000 new permanent shelter beds for homeless Torontonians, rather than the 400 “spaces” endorsed by Tory; $1.1 million to cut a waiting list of almost 200,000 people, mostly kids, for subsidized recreation spaces; $767,800 to meet Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requirements for accessible city spaces; and $450,000 for new community programs to help strengthen Black youth leadership, capacity in Indigenous organizations and more.

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Councillor Gord Perks, a vocal critic of Tory, is predicting an “outpouring of interest in this budget, more than in previous years, because many of our services are at the breaking point — transit, housing, shelters, child care — and Torontonians, at least the ones I talk to, have had enough.

“This is our eighth straight year of austerity and we need investments. We’ve had eight years of trying to fit round pegs in square holes and eventually the whole system breaks,” he said, noting current alarm about homeless shelter capacity, and city efforts to bolster it, amid dangerously cold weather.

Last February, the 2017 budget passed after a battle that saw Tory and most of his council allies vote to eliminate 10 front-line shelter staff positions.

Perks noted city manager Peter Wallace’s warnings that council has leaned heavily on reserve funds and the land-transfer tax to balance the budget.

John Campbell, a right-leaning councillor who routinely breaks with Tory, predicts budget deliberations will see “a lot of money moving around — this is an election year, a very important year for John Tory, and I think you’re going to see a hold-the-line budget with enough progressivity that people will be happy in the end.”

Toronto invites residents to help city win $50-million ‘Smart Cities’ prize

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The Etobicoke representative said he’s worried about the rising cost of servicing Toronto’s debt and likely won’t support a two-hour timed TTC transfer.

“I think it will largely benefit people who don’t need a benefit.”

Torontonians can make budget presentations: Monday at the Etobicoke and Scarborough civic centres, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Tuesday at the North York and York civic centres 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.; and Wednesday at East York civic centre 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and City Hall 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.

City staff ask that people register to speak by calling 416-392-4666 or emailing, and can email written submissions to that same address or submit by fax 416-392-1879 or mail 100 Queen St. W., 10th floor, West Tower, Toronto ON, M5H 2N2.

City council will finalize the 2018 operating and capital budgets in mid-February.

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