Feb. 16, 2017

There was a moment on Wednesday at almost midnight when it looked as though Toronto city council was going to have some difficulties balancing the city budget.

Past the 14-hour meeting mark, in an effort to pass the operating and capital budget in just one day and not the scheduled two, the vote on the final item tipped the balance of the budget – causing an eruption of commotion on the council chamber floor.

The item was about keeping street sweeping. It was the last big budget decision council was to make, at the very end of a list of 60 other items within 41 motions. Council voted 24 – 20 against “Transportation Services budget as it pertains to street sweeping reductions.”

However, once it was clear that keeping street sweeping was going to cost $2 million and put the entire $60 billion budget in a precarious state, Councillor Justin Di Ciano asked to change his vote, saying he voted incorrectly. Some councillors were against this and insisted that reopening the vote was “not permitted” if it would change the outcome. The city clerk clarified that council did indeed have the power reopen and change the decision with their vote.

In the middle of it all, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti rose to say to his councillor colleagues, “Now we’re in a pickle, aren’t we?”

Finally, a recess was called. Staff and politicians gathered on the floor to discuss a solution.

12:20 a.m. Feb. 16, 2017. Newly elected ward 42 Councillor Neethan Shan’s first day at city hall was a special council budget meeting and lasted more than 16 hours.
12:20 a.m. Feb. 16, 2017. Newly elected Ward 42 Councillor Neethan Shan’s first day at city hall was a special council budget meeting and lasted more than 16 hours.

For Councillor Neethan Shan, the long budget meeting made for quite a first day at city hall. “It’s been a great day – it’s been a long day,” Shan said during the recess. The newly elected city councillor won the Ward 42 by-election just two days before the budget decision day, and was sworn in at 8:30 a.m. that morning. “This is my first day here, so I’m willing to put more hours and get this through. Residents are watching to see what kind of vision we’re going to communicate [with the budget], so I’m excited about that.”

After Speaker Frances Nunziata called an end to the recess she told city council that the City of Toronto Act requires the city to adopt a balanced budget. There were two options: come back for a special meeting or find the money. Budget Chief Gary Crawford moved a motion for $2 million to be transferred from the tax rate stabilization reserve to balance the budget. Council passed the motion.

Mayor’s response

The morning following the budget Mayor John Tory explained that one member of council asked that the item be separated out when voting occurred.

“Someone probably should have raised the procedural issue of saying, well we can’t allow that vote to happen without an offset so we wouldn’t be left in a situation where we had an unbalanced budget,” Tory told reporters.

“The good news, I think, for the people of Toronto is that everything that happens as part of our budget process happens in public. They see it all, and it’s sometimes not a pretty sight – it is like sausage-making, sometimes – but that’s simply reflective of the decision made by council to say, we think that street-sweeping money should be restored and that’s what happened.”

Property tax

Following the 2017 budget policy, some homeowners may actually experience a decrease in their property tax this year.

City council approved an increase of 2 percent on property tax, plus an additional .5 percent for the city building fund. City staff say there’s also other fees bringing the total increase to 3.29 percent. (New provincial legislation suspend increases for rental apartments and multi-residential building.)

However, the municipal tax amount will vary depending on the current assessment value for the property, and for some that will mean a reduction.

According to the City of Toronto Property Tax Calculator, a property valued at $587,471 in 2016 would have paid $2,919.90 in tax that goes to the city (not including portions for city building or education). According to city staff, the amount for that property in 2017 is estimated at $2,835, nearly $90 less this year.