Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New taxes, asset sales on plate for Toronto?

TORONTO - City council needs more of your cash.

Mayor John Tory and city manager Peter Wallace said Monday that a bevy of new taxes and public asset sales could be in the offing to generate much-needed money to fund transit expansion and social housing repairs.

But while promising in one breath that “nothing is off the table” — including contracting out services — Tory also nixed hiking property taxes.

“As far as I’m concerned, we cannot put our financial problems on the backs of homeowners through their property tax bills,” he said.

Tory said council must have difficult discussions about selling city assets, including Toronto Hydro. Previously held beliefs around what a city should or should not own have to be abandoned, he said.

“I am here to say all of these things have to change. At least to the point where you’re open to having a discussion about doing these things,” Tory said.

Wallace warned that a six-year run of delivering low tax increases and service improvements is about to come to an end.

In order to keep transit and housing investment promises, council must consider creating new revenue sources by hiking fees, taxes or selling assets, he insisted. A report on specific measures will come this summer.

Wallace said council has to shift focus, using new revenue-generating measures to achieve long-term goals — not to deal with short-term budget shortfalls.

Councillor Gord Perks was critical of the call to sell assets and contract out services. He challenged Tory to name the new taxes and asset sales he supports.

“If he’s not prepared to say what services he cuts in order to keep property taxes low, then he’s doing exactly what he has blamed previous administrations for, which is not being honest with the people of Toronto,” he said.

Tory, meanwhile, also said the budget process has to be more transparent. He singled out two examples of budgeting brought to his office’s attention that he said hide debt financing costs from the public.

A previous administration used an “unfinanced capital” fund to finance debt. In 2013, that fund grew by $300 million, he said.

Tory also singled out two debt issuances the Toronto Community Housing Corp. took on to finance work done on Regent Park and other buildings. The debt, totalling $450 million, now has to be financed with $23-million-a-year interest payments.

“It was never approved by city council and was not accompanied by a repayment plan of any kind,” Tory said. “Now we’re beginning to set this right, at a cost to taxpayers of $23 million per year.”
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