toronto city council

5 things to know about the 2014 Toronto budget

After a two-day meeting full of all the vitriol, hyperbole, and absurdity we've come to expect from city hall, last night council finally nailed down Toronto's $9.6-billion operating budget for 2014, while (mostly) rejecting a raft of measures Rob Ford had claimed would save the city $60 million.

The vital financial blueprint dictates what the city charges its residents in taxes and fees and what it spends keeping things like fire services and the TTC running. In case you weren't rapt by endless hours of financial debate, here are a few of the highlights.

PROPERTY TAX WENT UP BY 2.71%

The city has plenty of things to pay for this year, including the Scarborough subway extension and a backlog of repairs following a nasty series winter storms, so, naturally, taxes had to go up - but by how much? Council decided on the first day of its meeting to set the property tax rate 2.71% higher than in 2013, which loosely translates to $68.59 a year extra for the average homeowner in the city.

Income from property taxes fund 39%, or $3.8 billion, of Toronto's $9.6 billion operating budget. The remainder comes from user fees and payments from other levels of government, among other sources of revenue.

Rob Ford, who wanted to keep the increase to 1.75%, called the decision "ridiculous."

ROB FORD PRESENTED A LOT OF MOTIONS

After days of keeping the city on tenterhooks, Ford finally lifted the veil on a series of motions he claimed could reduce the budget by $60 million. Among his ideas were plans to cancel the hiring of two new by-law officers to inspect apartment buildings, eliminate security guards at public libraries, add library fines to property tax bills, and cut city staff salary budget, all of which failed.

The mayor did manage to win some battles: Our Toronto and City Insider, two magazines printed at the city's expense, were thrown in the trash, as was the Employer Engagement Survey. A motion to find sponsors for the Pan-Am Games, which it appears was already happening, also passed.

THE SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY GOT SOME CASH

0.5% of the property tax increase - some $12.2 million - went to the Scarborough subway, which let's not forget council voted for instead of a fully-funded LRT in 2013. The money will be used to lay the groundwork for the three-stop continuation of the Bloor-Danforth line to Scarborough Centre, but more money will be needed next year.

A motion by councillor Josh Matlow that would have required the city to report on the sunk costs associated with cancelling the LRT failed.

THE TTC GOT A FUNDING INCREASE

Riders were dinged with a 5-cent fare increase this year, but the TTC was given a $20 million increase to its operating subsidy - the money it needs to keep the trains running on top of what it gets from customers - during yesterday's meeting.

TTC CEO Andy Byford said the extra money, $3 million more than the organization had originally asked for, will help make up for a projected $6 million budget shortfall. Earlier in the year Byford said he hoped the rest of that money could be found in efficiencies.

In previous years the TTC operating budget has been frozen. It will total $433 million this year.

Just for comparison it's worth noting that the TTC remains the least subsidized mass transit system of its size in North America - just 78-cents on every fare is paid for by the city. Montreal and Vancouver get $1.16 and $1.62 per fare respectively.

COUNCIL CUT FIRE SERVICES MONEY

Despite a TV advert that claimed cutting five fire trucks and 84 firefighters would slow response times and put lives at risk, city council decided to reduce spending on Toronto Fire Services this year. Underwriters who set insurance rates said the cuts wouldn't noticeably affect the quality of fire protection in Toronto.

A motion by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly rescued one of the trucks by providing a one-time cash injection of $2 million.

Are you pleased that the TTC is getting more money? What about the cash going to the Scarborough subway?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Chris Bateman/blogTO


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