2017 City Budget: Budget Committee Fails to Make Real Progress on Poverty Reduction

On January 24, the Budget Committee held its final meeting on the 2017 City budget. While taking many service cuts off the table, the 2017 City budget, at present, contains service cuts including cuts to hundreds of staffing positions, makes big increases to user fees, and fails to make real progress on City Council's commitment to reduce poverty in Toronto.

But there's still time to change this budget ... Next up, the Mayor's Executive Committee meets on February 7 to make its recommendations. Toronto City Council meets on February 15 and 16 to make final decisions on the budget.

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Source: Pixabay.com (City plans to add 300 child care subsidies while making big increases to child care fees for families using child care centres in schools. A long waiting list for subsidized child care remains.)


Check out our 2017 City Budget: Update with highlights on the current state of the budget 

What changes did the Budget Committee make to the 2017 City budget?

The preliminary budget included $10,824,500 in service cuts. The Budget Committee reversed $3,167,900 of these cuts.

Service cuts that have been reversed:

  • Reversed cuts to the Adelaide Resource Centre for Women ($795,500)
  • Included 2% inflationary increase for community services provided by nonprofit community organizations through the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP; added $382,000 to cover increase)
  • Reversed cut to arts and culture funding, including Toronto Arts Council administrative funds ($131,000)
  • Reversed cuts to Parks Plan for enhanced parks maintenance introduced in 2016 ($217,100)
  • Reversed cuts to Parks Plan for enhanced horticulture and urban agriculture introduced in 2016 ($422,600)
  • Reversed cuts to Etobicoke and York leaf collection ($771,800)
  • Reversed cuts to grass cutting ($204,600)
  • Reversed cuts to sponsorship and transfers funded by Economic Development and Culture ($40,000)
  • Reversed cuts to Zion Church Culture Centre (Economic Development and Culture program) and Cavalcade of Lights ($85,400)
  • Reversed cuts to the City Manager's Office for 1 health and safety position ($117,900)

Service cuts that are still in the budget:

  • Staff reductions from attrition (not rehiring after someone leaves and more work for remaining staff; affects homeless and housing first solutions and social housing system management; 10.25 full-time equivalent positions) ($1,047,800)
  • Elimination of the Emergency Cooling Centre Program operated by the Office of Emergency Management ($30,400)
  • Phase out of occupancy grants for child care provision in schools (this will result in an increase in annual child care costs of $351 for families using child care in schools) ($1,133,000)
  • Closure of Capri child care centre due to health and safety issues and low enrollment ($357,900)
  • Cuts to Long-Term Care Homes & Services, including cuts to part-time staff hours and replacement staff when employees take time for mandatory education training ($1,315,700)
  • Closure of Toronto Island Ropes Course ($56,800)
  • Reduction in funding for cultural hotspots ($50,000)
  • Reduction of street sweeping of local roads ($315,000)
  • Cuts to other divisions (such as City Clerk's office, City Manager's office, IT, etc.) ($3,350,100)

The preliminary budget also identified a long list of possible service cuts that could be used to balance the budget. The list included service cuts like the elimination of the homeless prevention program, large-scale closure of pools and recreation facilities, and other terrible things. The Budget Committee has not recommended any of these possible service cuts.

However, the Budget Committee did pass motions introducing new service cuts that had not been mentioned in the preliminary budget.

New service cuts recommended by the Budget Committee:

  • Nuit Blanche budget cuts ($142,200)
  • Toronto Public Health - health promotion efficiencies ($96,700)
  • Toronto Public Health - management rationalization & restructuring ($470,500)
  • Reduce street sweeping on arterial roads to 1 per month ($2,000,000)

The Budget Committee also added funding for services that were not included in the preliminary budget.

Services added to the budget:

  • 300 new child care subsidies ($3,003,000)
  • Student Nutrition Program - strengthening current program and expanding to 48 new schools as part of the 6-year SNP expansion plan ($2,103,700)
  • Toronto Public Library services (Sunday open hours at district branches - $139,300 and half of the funds sought for internet wi-fi hotspot lending enhancement - $150,000)
  • Toronto Urban Health Fund - year 3 funding ($150,000)
  • Toronto Community Housing for phase 3 of Regent Park revitalization ($6,000,000)
  • Toronto Public Health for short-term measures to prevent and respond to overdoses ($297,000)
  • Health hazard and food safety inspections ($165,800)
  • Fit for Duty drug testing of TTC workers ($1,300,000)
  • Transit Enforcement Officers - increased powers ($98,000)
  • More trees for tree canopy ($2,260,000)
  • Service increases in other divisions (such as legal services, fire, transportation, Auditor General, etc.) ($7,055,300)

Where did the money come from to cover the services added to the budget and service cuts that were reversed?

  • The Budget Committee is recommending using a number of revenue tools to bring in more money to pay for services. (A little over a year ago, the Mayor and most of City Council would not entertain any ways to bring in more money to pay for services except for regressive user fees that disproportionately impact lower income residents. It's taken a lot of community members and groups calling for new and fairer revenue tools to get us to this point. These are important steps in the right direction.) 
  • This budget still includes a bunch of one-time funding from reserve accounts (i.e. savings accounts for specific programs which can't provide sustainable funding to maintain services over time)
  • The property tax increase remains at 2% for residential and will be set at 1% for commercial properties. This results in an overall property tax increase that is below the rate of inflation. There's also been no take-up of a graduated residential property tax that would have homeowners with more expensive properties (say over $1 million or $2 million) pay a higher rate of property tax than other homeowners.

The new revenue tools adopted:

  • Set commercial property tax increases at 50% of the residential rate (usually it's set at 1/3 of the residential rate) ($3,800,000)
  • Increase the Municipal Land Transfer Tax so it's the same as the provincial land transfer tax (homebuyers pay this; however there is a rebate for first-time homebuyers ($77 million net revenue - $9 million to increase the rebate for first-time homebuyers = $68,000,000)(the City also revised the amount of revenue expected from the MLTT in 2017 by $15 million)
  • Increase the amount of money (income share) that the Toronto Parking Authority provides to the City from 75% to 85% ($6,300,000)
  • Reduce the break on property taxes for vacant commercial and industrial properties (vacancy rebate) with a plan to eliminate it completely in future years ($5,500,000)(the provincial government has to change the regulation to allow the City to do this)
  • Introduce a hotel tax (4% of hotel accommodation revenues and 10% on short-term rental ie. AirBNB type services)($5,000,000)(the provincial government has to make a legislative change to allow the City to do this)

Revenue tools that were not adopted:

  • Changing the Municipal Land Transfer Tax so that first-time homebuyers who buy a residential property worth $700,000 would no longer quality for the first-time homebuyer rebate and would pay the full amount of the MLTT ($9,000,000)
  • Reintroduce the personal vehicle tax at $120 per vehicle annually ($75,000,000)
  • Above-inflationary increases to the Third Party Sign Tax rates (billboard tax) ($2,000,000)
  • Other revenue tools previously identified, such as commercial parking tax or alcohol tax, were not considered in the development of this budget

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Source: Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre www.conccommunity.org (Home to Toronto's newest shelter, a 30-bed shelter for men. It has been full every day since its third day of operation. The men's shelter system continues to be at capacity, exceeding the City's occupancy standard of 90%.)


 

What does this budget do to advance the City's commitment to poverty reduction?

This budget makes little progress on the Mayor and City Council's commitment to reduce poverty in Toronto. 

Housing and homelessness:

  • The hole in the Toronto Community Housing operating budget is now filled. We understand that City Council will add $37.5 million in base operating funding to the TCHC budget. The TCHC capital repair budget to pay for the repair and maintenance of tenant homes remains deeply underfunded with no financial commitments from provincial and federal governments at this time. The federal government has made a commitment to introduce a national housing strategy. The City is hopeful that this will result in increased, ongoing and sustainable funding for housing including TCHC repairs. Due to inadequate funding, 427 TCHC units are expected to be boarded up in 2017, resulting in nearly 1,000 boarded up units in total. Without new funding, the TCHC CEO says they will be boarding up one unit a day in 2018. This is housing we desperately need in this city.
  • The budget includes $6 million to assist with the completion of Phase 3 of the Regent Park revitalization.
  • The budget includes little new investment for the creation of affordable housing. The City projects no decline in the number of households on the social housing waiting list, projected at 97,500 households in 2016-19, although the City is anticipating some federal funding for housing in upcoming years. The City projects completing 289 new units of affordable rental housing in 2017, well below its already modest target of 1,000 per year. As well, affordable housing is often defined as housing with rents set at 100% of the market rent which is not affordable for many residents. The City also projects a decrease in the social housing stock in 2017 at 91,266 units, down by 1,921 units from 2016.
  • The budget includes over $1 million in cuts to the Shelter, Support and Housing budget affecting homeless and housing first solutions and social housing system management. These are cuts to front-line positions in shelters and staffing positions in the social housing system. City staff report that the cuts to front-line positions in shelters include client service workers, councillor, food service workers, program supervisors, registered nurse, street outreach councillor, social housing consultant. Asked why they proposed this cut, staff say because they were directed to reduce their budgets by 2.6% and would not otherwise make these cuts. Meanwhile, the City's shelter system remains at capacity. Any reduction in service is harmful to this vulnerable group.
  • The City is opening new emergency shelters. However, the process is slow going. Even with new shelters opening, the City anticipates shelter occupancy for men in 2017 at 92%, above the 90% occupancy target re-committed to by the City in 2013. The City anticipates occupancy in the women's shelter system will decrease to 90% due to the opening of a 60-bed shelter which took place in December 2016. However, occupancy in January continues to hover around 95%. Many groups, including Social Planning Toronto, have called on the Mayor and City Council to open temporary shelters until the crisis in the shelter system is resolved. So far, there's no commitment from the Mayor's office or City Council to take this action. Read more here, here, here and here
  • The budget calls for the elimination of the Emergency Cooling Centre Program which provides relief for homeless and vulnerable residents at risk from extreme heat. This cut is against the advice of the interim Medical Officer of Health. She advises that tens of thousands of residents are at serious risk from extreme heat and recommends that the program be evaluated and appropriate changes made to effectively address the needs of these at-risk residents.

Child care:

  • While the budget increases the number of child care subsidies by 300, it also includes a massive increase in child care costs ($351) for families using child care centres in schools. The current waiting list for subsidized child care is 17,700. Recent reports call for a major increase in new spaces. To make them affordable, subsidies must be made available.

Recreation:

  • Recreation user fees which affect more modest income residents are set to increase by 2.3% with even bigger increases for introductory and subscriber programs with a 12.3% increase; extended care camp fees are also up well above inflation.
  • 189,467 people are on the waiting list for recreation programs including 65,638 Scarborough, 51,487 Etobicoke/York, 44,047 North York and 28,295 Toronto/East York residents.
  • The recreation budget includes the elimination of 111.3 full-time equivalent recreation worker jobs. These kinds of jobs are predominantly part-time positions held by youth. City staff say most of these positions are currently vacant. 

Student nutrition:

  • The City has a 6-year Student Nutrition Program investment plan. The budget now includes funding for the implementation of the 5th year of the plan which covers inflationary increases for the cost of food, improvements to existing programs, and funding for programs at 48 new schools. Despite having a plan for increased investment, every year there's a struggle to get the money into the budget to pay for the program.

Public Library programs:

  • The budget now includes money to keep district libraries open on Sundays and half of the funds needed to expand internet wi-fi hotspot lending which provides free internet access in low income areas.
  • This year's budget follows a continue pattern of staffing cuts in libraries. Since amalgamation, libraries have lost 17% of their staff. Half of this female-dominated workforce is in precarious employment.
  • Despite plans to expand programs in 2017, only half of the funds are included for wi-fi hotspot lending, and no funds are included to expand the library's popular youth hub program which provides young people in low income areas with homework help and volunteer tutoring. 

Public Transit:

  • The budget includes a 10 cent fare increase for all fares, except cash fares. This means adult metropass users will pay an extra $57 a year, a 3.4% increase. Meanwhile, don't expect better service for your dollars. The TTC has made service cuts to several routes and will maintain overcrowding conditions on one-quarter of all bus and streetcar routes.
  • The TTC budget also does not include funds to improve track, signal and traction power reliability, the track safety plan, or staff training to provide service in stations.
  • TTC CEO Andy Byford has made the argument that this budget does not include any service cuts. TTCRiders would beg to differ. Their analysis identifies service cuts made in November and January affecting 27 routes, overcrowding conditions affecting 34 bus and 9 regular streetcar routes, cuts to bus maintenance, and failure to fund subway reliability measures. In the Fall, the TTC board voted against allocating $1.5 million for scheduled service improvements citing lower than expected ridership. Yet, it's hard to see how those funds for service improvement weren't desperately needed. Read TTCRiders' analysis here and here, and check out their awesome maps of how your routes are affected.

Toronto Police Service:

  • Check out a NOW Magazine article by former TPS Board Chair Alok Mukerjee and analysis of the police budget from the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.
  • One-quarter of property taxes go to the Toronto Police Services budget.

We are a far distance from making real progress in improving the lives of residents struggling to make ends meet in the city.

 

Take Action!

There's still time to change this budget to improve the lives of people struggling in our city.

1)    Contact your City Councillor

2)    Come to City Hall on February 7 for the Mayor’s Executive Committee meeting on the 2017 City budget

3)    Join us on February 15 and 16 at City Hall for Toronto City Council’s budget meeting and final vote

4)    Contact Susan Kwong at (416) 562-8110 or skwong@socialplanningtoronto.org with the Commitment to Community campaign to find out more about the City budget and how you can get involved

5)    Join the Toronto Can Do Better campaign at torontocandobetter.ca

 

 

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