Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Subways top City Hall's fall agenda
Expect the Scarborough subway debate to flare up this fall along with fights over the Toronto Island airport expansion, the 2014 budget and the city’s land transfer tax.
The Ward 3 council appointment and next year’s mayoral race are also sure to grab the spotlight.
Officials in Ford’s administration says they’ll be focusing on subways, specifically getting the Scarborough subway on track as councillors return to the grind of governing.
“Subways, subways, subways! That’s absolutely the priority initiative this fall,” said Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly.
“In a more general way, the administration will, I believe, continue its commitment to ‘the basics’ — repair and renovation of infrastructure. (We have to) get the foundation of city life ready for the transit and weather challenges of the 21st century, as well as providing the services expected of a great city at a fair and reasonable cost to its residents.”
Sunny Petrujkic, the mayor’s spokesman, confirmed Friday that securing funding for the Scarborough subway will be a priority for Ford this fall. The civic leader is also intent on rolling out a 2014 budget that “keeps taxes low” and trying to secure infrastructure funding to address the capital repair backlog at Toronto Community Housing, he added.
Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio has the nearly impossible task of delivering a 2014 budget that meets Ford’s request to keep taxes low and to cut the land transfer tax by 10%.
Di Giorgio admitted the budget process might require a few miracles.
“That’s a good way to put it,” he said. “It’s premature to make any initial predictions. I do have a mandate to keep the tax increase low (around 1.75%) — perhaps an additional 0.25% increase if the subway initiative ... gets off the ground, but I’m not sure that is going to happen.”
The city is looking at a $50-million cut in provincial funding next year along with mounting budget pressures for the Toronto Police and the TTC, Di Giorgio said.
“All those pressures are going to have to be absorbed,” he said.
The veteran councillor predicted “push back” from council over efforts to cut the land transfer tax.
“Most of them (on council) will not want to see any reduction in the land transfer tax, they’ll want to look at alternative uses of the money rather than have it given back to some of the taxpayers,” he said.
“I’m committed to trying to come across with a 10% (land transfer tax) reduction but I honestly think at the end of the day when we look at all the pressures, we may or may not be able to do something.”
TTC Chair Karen Stintz said the fate of the Scarborough subway is the “big issue” at City Hall this fall.
She plans to speak with Metrolinx officials this week about provincial funding for the project. The province has committed $1.4 billion to the Bloor-Danforth line extension but the city had banked on $1.8 billion from Queen’s Park.
Along with trying to nail down funding for the subway into Scarborough, Stintz said the TTC’s budget will also be a priority.
“We need an increased subsidy to the TTC,” she said, adding the TTC’s budget will likely include a five-cent fare hike.
Stintz said she’ll also be trying to ensure that the downtown relief line remains a priority amid the push for the Scarborough subway.
Public Works Chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong said the fall will bring a report card on how contracted out garbage collection did over its first year.
“It will be very important as an indicator on how successful we were and where we want to go next,” Minnan-Wong said.
A downtown transportation study — which includes ways to reduce congestion in the core — is also expected this fall.
The last few months of 2013 are expected to include lots of jockeying for position in the 2014 mayoral race. Candidates can start campaigning in the first week of January for the October 2014 election.
Councillor Josh Colle said he hopes “people are actually willing to work and govern (this fall) and not just be totally focused on 2014.”
Colle — a member of council’s political middle — said he believes there is a “lack of an agenda” at City Hall.
“We’re missing on a lot of important issues that we should be dealing with,” he said. “We seem to have these flare-ups of really saddening youth violence and we’re not confronting that. We’ve done nothing, in my mind, on improving customer service for our residents at City Hall. I still think red tape and bureaucracy are a real hurdle for small business.”
He said the city should also be prepared for a land-transfer-tax revenue drop — not through a council sanctioned cut, but a decline in housing prices.
“I’ve never heard somebody ever talk once about what are our contingencies if that bubble ever bursts,” he said.
"I think there is a lot that we have to turn our minds to and I hope those will be the conversations that we're having rather than who is running for what in 2014."
Here’s a rundown of some of the issues that will likely be making headlines at City Hall this fall:
Council said it wanted a Scarborough subway but can we pay for it? City officials said last week discussions are “ongoing” with the federal and provincial governments. City manager Joe Pennachetti will have a report at October’s city council meeting on whether council’s “terms and conditions” for the subway extension have been met.
Councillors will have to appoint someone to fill Doug Holyday’s empty council seat. The Etobicoke York community council will meet on Oct. 3 to select a preferred candidate. Council then meets on Oct. 10 to make the final decision on who will be appointed.
Porter Airlines bid to expand the Billy Bishop airport to include jets will be back in the spotlight this fall. The city is currently holding public consultation on the issue. A staff report with an update on the issue goes to Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee in September. A final public consultation will happen in November and the issue goes to the executive committee for a final decision in December and then, depending on what the committee decides, on to council.
Councillors will start to hammer out the last budget before the 2014 election this fall. Expect fights over a funding increase for the TTC and more wrangling over the Toronto Police budget. Fireworks are expected on the council floor as Mayor Rob Ford tries to cut the land transfer tax by 10%. The final vote on the budget will likely come in January.
Mayor Rob Ford
The mayor has been no stranger to making headlines at City Hall and he’ll likely garner more than his fair share of them this fall - the only question is will the Rob Ford stories be about his politics or more personal controversies.
The 2014 municipal election is set to officially start in January but this fall will likely bring lots of election news as various candidates try to garner attention ahead of campaign season. Mayor Rob Ford has said he will be running for another term. Who will challenge him? Expect lots of news stories on possible contenders including Olivia Chow, John Tory, Karen Stintz and Denzil Minnan-Wong.
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