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December City Council Rundown: Rate Budget, Vacant Home Tax, RentSafeTO

2021 Rate Supported Budgets – Toronto Water & Solid Waste


One of the big items before Council this month was the Rate Budgets for 2021. Our Rate Budgets are done on a cost-recovery basis: the utility rate you pay covers just the cost of delivering the service and the capital plan to keep clean water moving and keeping our waste facilities functioning. Pre-Pandemic, both Toronto Water and Solid Waste were targeting a 3% rate increase to keep up with the demands of a growing population and aging infrastructure.


Ultimately, staff decided to cut the increase in half due to the financial distress faced by many across the city. This required finding efficiencies, as they do every year, and pushing out some infrastructure work. I support this balanced approach to affordability while maintaining our much-needed capital plan.


One efficiency I was not supportive of was the elimination of the annual Solid Waste calendar. Why? It's a false economy. We would save the money of printing calendars that tell you what to put out, in which bin, and on which days, but it's a major loss to the education that needs to take place around waste diversion. It's a particular loss for those without regular internet access.


At Council, I fought to save the calendar in its current form but my motion failed by one vote and the calendar will be cut from the budget. Fortunately, the 2021 version is already printed and being delivered. It will be your last one. Next year you will get a general info calendar but your local bin schedule will be enclosed in your water bill once a year. You will have to keep an eye out for it, or access this info online.



As I wrote about last week, City Council debated whether to move forward with a Vacant Home Tax and there were lots of councillor worries.

“What about Snowbirds who are away for 6 months? What about the investor who bought condos to rent out but can’t seem to rent them? What about a home that sits vacant for a year because the owner passes away intestate and the family has legal work to do?”


All of these questions can be addressed in the report coming back next year from our Chief Financial Officer with proposed solutions. An implementation plan is coming back to Council in 2021 so that we can fully understand the details and logistics of the proposal before we vote on collection.

 

What a difference a few years of deeper work and consultation makes. The new and improved plan, called REimagining Yonge came to council with a recommended design (see my E-Blast on the topic). With refinement and understanding, the project is now being vocally supported both locally and city-wide. Last week a local ratepayer president appeared on the front page of the North York Mirror in support of the new design.


The design and implementation details still need to be worked out so you will not see shovels in the ground before 2026. In the meantime, the newly formed Willowdale BIA can rebuild and recover from the pandemic year and begin planning around accommodating patrons during construction.

 

The City continues to build on its enforcement program for multi-residential apartment buildings. These are buildings of three storeys or more that were purposely built for rental. Toronto has more of these buildings built between 1955 and 1970 than any other North American city.


It has always been a challenge to empower tenants to report landlords to the city for inadequate treatment, and given the city's limited power and slow progress, tenants are easily discouraged in their pursuit to improve their living situations. Often, tenant inquiries do lead to Municipal Licensing and Standards opening enforcement files on a landlord. These files can be active on a number of fronts but due to confidentiality rules, the tenant doesn’t know that any accountability is happening at all.


Now Toronto will be the first of its kind to introduce a publicly posted apartment facility rating system. Similar to the Pass/Fail Public Health rating for restaurants, RentSafeTO will require landlords to post a Building Inspection rating in the front entrance of their buildings. In order to get their property reclassified and get a better sign posted, they will have to do the recommended improvements and pay a re-inspection fee, which will help fund enhanced inspection. This system will come into effect on June 1st, 2021.

 

Following my motion directing staff to work with Toronto Police Services on curbing late-night street racings, Councillor Filion came to me to add to this initiative an effort to control the noise generated from souped up engines.


I am happy to second his motion. When the noise bylaw comes up for review, this might be added to the list of measures we need to make. It might just be possible to leave windows open on a warm night and feel like you are trying to sleep near Daytona Beach on Spring Break.

 

Councillor Fillion also drew my attention to this report and I have followed up with yet more scrutiny of my own. I defy any of you to read the link immediately above here and explain to me what exactly it delivers to the city for a handsome ‘Success Fee’ of $5.5 million.

This contract was too far down the track for us to convince our colleagues to turn back but we have attached more stringent evaluation criteria and report-back dates for this success fee. It is an entirely new road to go down in shifting your property tax dollars out into the hands of major corporations.

Sometimes just shining a light on a report written in bafflegab, as was the case here, leads all of Council to take their oversight role to heart and begin to closely follow a large expenditure such as this.

 

This week Council will look at many actions on emergency housing and shelter needs. As the pandemic numbers and hospitalization continue to climb and the outdoor temperature drops, actions are evolving to respond. I will work on a comprehensive update on these actions over the holiday.

In the meantime, please consider putting yourself into a lockdown the way you did last spring, when it seemed we were beating this virus. Our hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed and are preparing for the worst. I read something on the signboard of a local church this week that was so meaningful, I had to pull over and take a photograph.

I'll be back next week with a year-end wrap-up. As the holidays approach, my office will still be available to serve you, though response times may be slower as staff switch off holiday time. Our normal response times will be back up and running to serve you in the New Year. If your matter is urgent, please contact 311 immediately.







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