Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Facing $343M budget gap, Toronto could freeze spending in 2018

City staff is recommending Toronto freeze its budget this year, an idea that has the mayor's support but has left some councillors sounding the alarm.

Toronto's budget committee will meet later this week to discuss a new report that calls for all arms of the city to hold budgets where they were in 2017.

To balance its books — something it's required to do by provincial law — the city needs to find some $343 million in savings, even if it increases residential property taxes by two per cent.

Mayor John Tory, speaking at a news conference about the future downtown relief line, said he supports the idea of starting the months-long budget process by taking a "really hard look" at what the city's spending.

"A lot of people are having to make do with the same amount they had last year," he said, adding he thinks those people will be happy to see the city doing the same.

Last year, Tory called for a 2.6 per cent across-the-board budget reduction, although many of the proposed cuts that departments floated were rejected. Tory said he hopes the city can again find a way to hold the line on spending without cutting any services.

Coun. Gord Perks, a fierce critic of last year's budget process, tweeted this year's plan will be a "disaster" for the city.

"How can we ask other governments to pay more for housing, daycare and transit when we freeze our own spending?" he wrote.
TTC, TCH, police will require biggest investments in new year

Operating expenses are expected to increase by $499 million this year, the city report notes, with the TTC, Toronto Community Housing, and police requiring the biggest new investments.

Coun. Janet Davis, who fought against proposed child-care cutbacks last year, echoed Perks's comments online.

"Yes, the province and feds should pay more, but we have to as well," she wrote.

Every department at the city will be expected to come up with its own plans to meet the target.

"Cost containment, service efficiency, modernization and service level changes as well as revenue strategies are required," the report notes.

The departments will also be expected to report on the "equity impact" — the effect of budget restraint on those it would affect most, including vulnerable populations — of any changes they bring forward.
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