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E-BLAST: We Finalized the Budget, Now Let's Get to Work

Yesterday, we finalized the 2024 City Budget. I know it has dominated both my E-Blast column and the news over the past month, and for good reason. This budget has a big impact on your life—not just because it affects your property tax bill but because it defines the way you experience life in this city every day.



I am proud to say that, after working together to make some key changes to the budget Mayor Chow launched on February 1, there was almost unanimous support for the final budget at Council yesterday. Every tweak and change was a direct result of the feedback my fellow Councillors, the Mayor and I heard from you, our constituents. Thank you for taking the time to engage with this budget, whether you came out to one of our events, phoned into a Telephone Town Hall, or contacted my office to share your thoughts. This Budget is so much stronger as a result of your input. Let's take a look at where the budget sits now that everything is said and done, and some of the key changes that happened on the Council floor yesterday.


First, I know that this year's property tax increase is a tough pill to swallow. Council supported the property tax increase of 8% for residential properties, plus the continuation of 1.5% to the City Building Fund created by John Tory. As I've shared in this column before, I would not have supported this increase if I didn't understand just how vital it is to the future of our city. We started this process by poring over every line of the budget and finding over $600 million in savings, the most ever found in a single year. That work never stops. Even with those savings, we needed to stop kicking the can down the road and fully account for the $1.8 billion budget hole we faced at the start of this process.


With this increase, we are asking you to invest in this city to get us back on track. Now we need to make good on that investment. You have to see and feel those dollars being put to good use. It's time for my fellow Councillors and I to deliver the positive changes that Toronto so desperately needs.



So what will those property tax dollars mean for your day-to-day life here in Toronto? It means you'll spend less time waiting for the bus, and that your TTC fare won't increase. When you take the TTC, you'll see more dedicated station officers to make our transit system safer. It means you'll find more affordable housing both created and preserved as we tackle the housing crisis. Tenants will see more inspectors hard at work to make sure our apartment buildings are up to standard and to help prevent evictions. It means there will be hundreds more firefighters, paramedics, and police officers hired to keep our city safe. If you need to call for help to support someone in mental health crisis, now they can be supported by non-police response anywhere in our city.


Those were the big three areas Torontonians told us to focus in on: housing, transit, and safety. I also want to highlight some of the smaller investments that I think, in some ways, mean the most to the daily life of Torontonians. You'll see more roads repaired to keep our city moving. Our parks will be cleaner and more enjoyable to use, with more garbage bins and better access to water fountains and washrooms. We're also expanding fast-growing outdoor recreation like pickleball. These are the things that make life in our city feel good, instead of feeling like we're falling apart at the seams.


As I shared at the top of this column, we also made some key changes to the Budget based on your feedback. These were achieved by using a small amount of revenue that came in when actual figures were calculated at the end of January. Chief amongst these changes was the decision to preserve windrow clearing after hearing from many folks across the city, seniors in particular, who rely on this service. There are also funds dedicated to hire more bylaw enforcement officers to deal with issues like noise; to plant and care for more trees; and to invest in youth programs and violence prevention programs that proactively keep our communities safe.


Thanks to the Mayor’s focus on partnership with both the Provincial and Federal governments, we are also seeing more funds directed to police to tackle the biggest safety concerns in our communities, such as auto thefts. This resolves the difference between the Police's proposed budget and City staff's proposed budget, and helped achieve consensus amongst Council members.



Now, all of these small changes are good investments for our city. As Budget Chief, I do have a responsibility to add a dose of realism. I ask that we all remember that when the 2025 Budget comes around, all of these small programs will have a full-year impact of even higher costs. In order to fund these annualized costs, meet the city's key challenges, and put forward a lower property tax increase, I will once again join City Finance staff in detailed reviews of every program and division. This year, that will include a new, more rigorous approach that is similar to the zero-based budgeting I have worked to implement with the City Manager and Chief Financial Officer. This hunt for savings and prudent financial management never stops.  


As dedicated E-Blast readers have heard me say before, property taxes were not designed to fund the vast social infrastructure our city now provides. Paying for all of that is wealth redistribution, and needs to come from revenue tools that grow with the economy and tax based on ability to spend, like income and sales tax. That is why it was so essential for both the Provincial and Federal governments to invest in transit, housing, shelter, and safety in our city. I will make sure we are putting those dollars to good use.


Your contribution to this year's budget set us on a course to get this city back on track. Moving forward, Council has to be laser-focused on making good on those investments and delivering the services you rely on. I might get on some people's nerves, but I will remind my fellow Councillors of that regularly.


Thank you for investing in our city. We can get back the Toronto we miss, and build a city that is green, clean, safe and affordable for all. Now, it's time to get to work.

 


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