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E-BLAST: Bringing the City Budget to You

Regular readers of my E-Blast are used to the City Budget taking over this space every January. For years now, there has been a routine to my annual obsession. After New Year's, I write about the Mayor's Budget Launch, including the proposed property tax rate. Later, I write a column about the proposed service changes that will affect us here in Don Valley North with an invitation to my annual Budget Town Hall. Finally, in February, I send out a column explaining what comes out of the Special Council meeting where the budget is finalized. This year, we're doing things differently.

This month, for the first time in many years, the City is calling on you to engage in the budget process before the budget is a done deal. For a long time, budget advocates have reached out to me and asked, "What's the point of giving you budget advice when the property tax increase is already etched in stone?". They are absolutely right, and I've been advocating for years for a more fulsome budget consultation process. Let's take look at what we used to do and what's in store this year.

Listening to Toronto 2004/2007

At the beginning of my first two terms of office, then-Mayor David Miller and the City Manager held massive community events to set budget priorities and consult with the community before making any tough choices or presenting a draft budget. The process was called Listening to Toronto. The Mayor, Council, and our Senior Staff related every budget in that term of office back to the priorities we heard during those large listening sessions in the first term years. 

What left the biggest impression on me from this process was the discussion Councillors had after the Listening to Toronto sessions. Staff would show us the feedback gathered along with an analysis of which meeting locations generated similar comments. We found commonalities all across the city. These commonalities helped create consensus amongst Councillors on how to proceed when it came time to make budget decisions.

Then, twelve years passed without subsequent Mayors ever engaging in this priority setting process, despite protests from myself and others. Our current Mayor, Olivia Chow, campaigned on making budget consultations with the community more meaningful. Your input means the most if the key points of the budget aren't already launched in one big "Done Deal" package.

BudgetTO: Getting What Matters To You

Yesterday, I joined Mayor Chow to announce that the she will be making good on her promise, and she has the whole City Budget Team behind her. The pre-budget engagement process is back, and it starts now. We have worked double time to pull together this opportunity. Throughout this month, we will update you on where the City's finances are at, what pressures may be in our future, and, possibly, how talks between the Mayor and Premier are going in the New Deal Working Group. 

The reality is, our City is facing a very stark financial situation—an operating budget shortfall north of $1.5 billion, to be exact. This came about for a number of reasons, the pandemic being chief among them. It had a truly severe impact on our transit and shelter systems, inflation, interest rates, supply chains, and so much more that touched every corner of our services.

This is all the more reason to gather as a community and make sure we're on the same page. Of course, diligent work is underway to find savings wherever possible, but the reality is we cannot solve our city's financial challenges with efficiencies alone. Mayor Chow is working with the Provincial and Federal governments to secure a new deal for Toronto, but those types of changes take time. For this year, we need to start from a shared understanding of our City's finances, and then hear your needs and work from there to build our 2024 Budget. We'll ask you questions about what we need to invest more in, and what we may be able to live without to maintain some level of affordability. It is something we should try to decide together.

There are a number of ways for you to take part in this process. We've designed it so you don't even have to be a meeting addict like myself. As of yesterday, there is an online survey and tool that you can use to share your thoughts on the City Budget and Toronto's future, both of which are available until the end of the month. Starting November 20, we're providing five in-person sessions, one in each borough of the City, and three virtual sessions for you to hear from Budget Staff and share your thoughts with fellow neighbours. As Budget Chief, I will be attending every single one, and hope to see you there. Visit the website below to access the survey and find full details on all of the consultation sessions:

Toronto's Budget is a roadmap for the city we want to build together. It's a reflection of our shared priorities, and a path towards the city we want to live in today and the city we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. I'm truly looking forward to every single opportunity to connect with Don Valley Northerners and Torontonians on the issues that matter most. This is just the beginning, as we'll still be holding a slew of engagement opportunities once the Mayor's budget is launched in January. 

I sincerely hope you take part in the consultation opportunities happening this month. Hearing your views, opinions, and ideas will help us best advocate for Toronto and create a budget that truly reflects the city we all want to see.



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