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Executive committee signs off on 2017 budget paving way for council’s approval

The average homeowner will pay $90 more per year. But critics say the budget is leaving too many people behind.

Mayor John Tory oversees executive committee deliberations on Toronto's 2017 operating and capital budgets at city hall on Tuesday.

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Mayor John Tory oversees executive committee deliberations on Toronto's 2017 operating and capital budgets at city hall on Tuesday.

Mayor John Tory’s executive committee have signed off on a 2017 budget that would cost the average homeowner $90 extra on their tax bill while cutting staff that serve the city’s most vulnerable residents and drawing millions from reserves in a move staff called “unsustainable.”

The $12.3-billion operating budget and $39.7-billion, 10-year capital plan will be finalized by council next week.

“Is this budget to everybody’s liking? No, of course it isn’t,” Tory told the committee Tuesday afternoon, calling out political opponents by name for criticizing the plan. “But I think we’ve done quite well at achieving a balance.”

After council was challenged to close a $91 million budget gap just to keep current city services, the budget committee and now executive committee proposed a number of long-term and one-time changes. They also added $40.4 million in new or improved services.

The funding plan includes a tax on hotel accommodations, expected to bring in $5.5 million this year, and harmonizing the municipal and provincial land transfer taxes, to raise $77 million.

The budget was also balanced with more than $80 million in “bridging strategies” — which city manager Peter Wallace has referred to as solutions to council’s cash problems that “kick the can down the road.”

Executive committee approved a residential property tax rate at 2 per cent, just under the rate of inflation, with no discussion.

The city’s chief financial officer Rob Rossini noted every year it has been more difficult to find ways to balance the budget.

“I’m getting a little nervous about it,” he said of future years’ challenges. “How many more rabbits can we pull out of the hat?”

Budget chief Councillor Gary Crawford told committee residents want property taxes to be kept at a minimum.

“We do need to continue to make hard choices to ensure that we are keeping our spending in check and taxes as low as possible for the residents,” he said.

Critics said the budget unfairly burdens low-income and vulnerable residents with increases to fees like transit fares and recreation program costs those populations rely on daily.

“Today, we heard the mayor and others on budget committee trying to tell Torontonians this is a better budget. But Torontonians know that’s not true,” Councillor Gord Perks told reporters at a break in the meeting

The newly-proposed budget, as Tory announced this week, has reversed cuts to in-school daycares while finding the funding for 300 new subsidized spaces. Staff have said there are currently 18,000 children on the waitlist for subsidized childcare. Tory has called on the province to help.

The proposed budget includes funding for new shelter beds as part of a push to get shelter capacity levels down to a 90 per cent target set by council in 2013. It also includes a proposed $1.47 million cut to front-line staffers by not replacing the jobs of 12 staff who work directly with shelter clients and help people find permanent housing.

“While we add beds, while the need is also increasing to use those beds, we are decreasing our ability to service the people who use those beds,” Councillor Joe Cressy said. “Too many Torontonians are being left behind by this budget.”

The proposed budget includes $185 million in spending on poverty reduction strategy initiatives, including expanding a student nutrition program.

It does not, as Tory promised, fund all new initiatives planned for 2017.

Two planned youth hubs in libraries in Jamestown and at Bathurst St. and Lawrence Ave. and additional programming funding totaling $387,000 remains unfunded.

Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat said in an email the mayor will work with staff to “find a way to keep his commitment.”

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