Council Update: Budget 2015

After a two month process, the 2015 City of Toronto Budget passed with a 42 to 1 vote. In general, I am pleased with some of the changes we have made since the budget process started. We were able to include important initiatives including a new focus on the health impacts of climate change, increased funding to the City's tree canopy program, the creation of the City's first LGBTQ youth shelter, and new solid waste rate levels making those who create the most garbage pay. The budget also included investments in transit, restoring past service cuts and exploring ordering 60 new streetcars to ensure that wait times do not increase once the new fleet hits the streets.

I am also thrilled to share that the two motions I brought forward also passed. First, I brought forward a motion that restored $200,000 to the security guard budget of the Toronto Public Library. As a member of the Library Board, I heard first hand the concerns from staff this proposed reduction would have caused. By returning these funds to the library, staff are able to ensure that the minimum security needs of our branches are met.

My second motion requested that the City Treasurer examine the property tax increase, deferral and cancellation programs to determine the most appropriate income levels for eligibility and whether or not the levels should be indexed. We have not seen a consistency on the city's definition of income levels, which can have the greatest impact on low-income residents. Through reviewing this structure, as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the City should have a consistent and fair system moving forward.

One area of great concern during the budget process was the proposed removal of Heritage staff. This would have had a devastating effects on the proposed heritage conservation districts in our ward. With the help of all the residents who wrote to the Executive Committee, we were able to save eight Planning staff, including four Heritage staff, from being cut from the 2015 Budget. I was inspired by the efforts of Ward 13 residents, who took time to write to the Executive Committee about the importance of City Planning. If the cuts had gone through, Heritage Conservation District studies and City-wide and Ward-specific Planning studies would have been delayed years at a time when our city is undergoing rapid growth.

While many programs where protected, I still have concerns over this budget, primarily focussing on how we are spending tomorrow's money today. The budget pressures that the City faces needs to be examined and we must take an honest, realistic approach to funding the services Torontonians expect. Next year we are going to face significant pressures and 2% cuts across the board. Over the last four years I have heard from residents that we do not want to see our libraries closed, recreational programs cut, childcare spaces lost, and service standards reduced. As we move towards the 2016 budget I support looking at alternative revenue sources to ensure our tax rate covers the cost of operating these services that Torontonians find so important.