Mayor Miller on the Toronto Budget

Comment: David Miller on the city’s 2010 budget
Posted: February 16, 2010, 11:07 AM by Rob Roberts

The following is excerpted from David Miller’s prepared remarks at the introduction of the City of Toronto’s recommended 2010 Operating Budget this morning:

Any discussion on the City’s budget should keep in mind the following facts:

ONE. Toronto has the lowest residential property taxes in the entire GTA.  While it is not often the headline, it is worth repeating that if you live in a condominium or house in this City you pay less in residential property taxes than anyone in the 905. For example, the average home in Toronto has an assessed value of $407,374. The owner of this home in Toronto will pay $2,334 in residential property taxes to the City – about $6.39 a day.  If that same home is in Mississauga the owner will pay $2,559 in property taxes. $225 more! If that same Toronto home is in Markham, the homeowner will pay $3,037 ($703 more!) and if that same home is in Vaughan the homeowner pays $3,314 in property taxes – almost $1,000 more. The matter is settled.  If you own a home or condo in Toronto you paid less residential property taxes in 2009 than any other municipality in the GTA.  In addition, residents should know that about 70% of their property taxes go to pay for three things:  emergency services, provincially mandated health and social services, and the TTC.

TWO. Our city is a compassionate community where people help and support one another in tough times. Last year, this government, as part of the Toronto Helps program, launched a series of measures aimed at helping people to keep their housing and find work. We also assisted more seniors and disabled persons with property tax assistance programs.

THREE.  This government has cut business taxes by more than $190-million since 2006.  If the measures recommended in this budget are adopted; that number increases to well over $250-million.

FOUR.  For the past two years Toronto has frozen development charges to assist the construction and development industry.  This has meant lower costs for a sector adversely affected during the current recession. Together, these measures demonstrate the very high priority this City government has placed on supporting business and our economy.  In addition, the creation of two new corporations – Invest Toronto and Build Toronto – will see us redouble our efforts and produce results that will benefit the entire region.

FIVE. Toronto’s user fees for programs cover only a portion of the costs associated with delivering the service. In fact, user fees for recreation cover only about 30% of the cost of programming. All of us deserve the opportunity to learn and experience new things.  The kinds of programs the City provides build the inclusive communities that we value. It’s a fact that the fees Toronto charges are competitive and consistent with those charged by surrounding municipalities. Although user fees make up only about 15% of the City’s total revenues, without this money the City would be unable to provide the programs that make Toronto the great City it is.

SIX.  This year’s budget, like those before, includes spending restraint, efficiencies, some adjustments in service levels while ensuring our residents continue to receive the programs and services they rely on. It’s also a fact that many of the budgets presented over the years have included salary increases for some employee groups that have been ordered by arbitrators – where the results are not settled by the City.  The arbitrator is not required to set salaries as the City demands.  However, it’s also a fact that the wages of the majority of other City employees remain comparable to other municipalities. Following the recent strike the City achieved a settlement that included wage increases far less than those being requested prior to the strike and successfully negotiated the removal of a sick leave benefit that had been in the collective agreement for more than 50 years. These actions have and will save the City money. The budget is balanced through the use a surplus generated by these actions and through a 4% residential tax increase and a 1.3% business property tax increase.  User fees and the TTC fare increase also contribute to balancing this budget, as does the uploading begun by the Province two years ago.

SEVEN.  The City continues to have a structural financial challenge. It’s a fact the City needs the province to return to the sustainable transit operating funding that was in place for decades prior to amalgamation. We will be working with the Province of Ontario to conclude a Toronto – Ontario Partnership Agreement by December 1, 2010 to provide the City with permanent sustainable transit operating funding, commencing in fiscal 2011. That remains the single largest ongoing operating budget structural challenge affecting the City each year and I look forward to working on the resolution of the matter. Transit is too important to be financed with ad-hoc, year-end or one-time funds, and the TTC is too important to the future of Toronto to allow it to suffer uncertain funding.

EIGHT. The City has taken steps to extend part of its debt over a longer period of time. Debt restructuring has reduced our operating budget by $33 million this year alone. This strategy provides the City the flexibility it needs to address our operating budget challenge and still maintain the City’s excellent credit rating.

NINE.  The budget does not include the sale or monetization of any city assets. Any such initiative should only be contemplated if it’s in the best long-term interests of the City of Toronto and never be used to fund any operating budget shortfall.

TEN.  You can’t have a great city for free. This is important. Anyone who tells you that they can freeze or cut your taxes and provide the vital services we all rely on … including: Helping the most vulnerable amongst us; Public Transit; Emergency services; Safe communities where crime continues to decline; And, Protecting the Environment; … is simply not telling you the whole story.
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