2019 City Budget: Draft Budget Fails to Take Bold Action Our City Needs

On January 28, the City of Toronto launched its 2019 staff-recommended budget. We've been busy poring over all of the budget documents, sharing our analysis in community meetings, and preparing presentations for budget forums this week. In this post, we'll give you our first round of highlights from the draft budget, provide information about upcoming budget events, and let you know how you can share your priorities, concerns and ideas at the budget deputations/public hearings.



Toronto Sign City Hall

City programs, services and infrastructure are critically important. They shape the quality of life in our city. That's why the budget process matters. It's how Toronto City Council sets priorities for the city. Community involvement in the budget process can lead to changes that make our city a better place to live - and we need a lot of changes to make this city a more liveable, equitable and inclusive place to live! We hope you'll get involved in the 2019 city budget process to advocate for the city we want and the city we need.

The staff-recommended budget that was released last week is a draft budget. Toronto City Council holds its final votes on the budget on March 7. That means there's plenty of time to change this budget to create a better city. 

First off, mark your calendar! You have an opportunity to share your views, concerns and ideas for the 2019 city budget with members of the Budget Committee. On February 7 and 11, members of the Budget Committee will hold budget deputations to hear from residents, community groups, businesses and others. Everyone is welcome to participate, and anyone can attend the budget deputation meetings. You can also watch the meetings online.

You usually get 5 minutes to speak to the committee, but it may be cut down to 3 minutes if a lot of people come out. It's best if you can register in advance to get your name on the list. However, the city staff may allow you to add your name to the list at the meeting.

Deputations / Public Hearings:

Thursday, February 7:
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West
9:30 AM - 5 PM and 6 PM on

Thursday, February 7:
Scarborough Civic Centre
150 Borough Drive, Scarborough
3 - 5 PM and 6 PM on

Monday, February 11:
Etobicoke Civic Centre
399 The West Mall, Etobicoke
3 - 5 PM and 6 PM on

Monday, February 11:
North York Civic Centre 
5100 Yonge Street, North York
3 - 5 PM and 6 PM on

To register to speak, email buc@toronto.ca or call 416-392-4666. Provide your name, the date and location where you would like to speak, and whether you would like to attend in the day time or evening.

Have questions about making a deputation? Looking for some advice? Social Planning Toronto's Israt Ahmed would be glad to speak with you. Contact her at iahmed@socialplanningtoronto.org or 647-203-3058.

Our City in Crisis

This city has some serious challenges. We've got a transit system that's failing to deliver for our growing population - where long waits, dangerous overcrowding on platforms, and "crush-load capacity" buses, subways and streetcars are a daily occurrence. Are you going to be late for work because the bus hasn't arrived or you can't squeeze yourself into the packed subway car? Yes, that's right; you're going to be late.

We've got an ongoing crisis of homelessness and lack of affordable housing - where we don't even have the capacity to provide a proper shelter bed for all of the city's homeless population on a nightly basis.

We've got the most expensive child care in the country, and even if you have money, you may not be able to find a spot for your child.

One in five people in Toronto live in poverty, and one in four children. Indigenous, racialized and newcomer families are even more likely to struggle with low incomes.

Last year, we had a record high number of homicides with continued problems of guns and gangs.

We have high youth unemployment rates, particularly among marginalized communities. 

The city's infrastructure - Toronto Community Housing, TTC, long-term care homes + more - is badly in need of repair and redevelopment.

And we've got waiting lists - for affordable housing, for child care subsidies, for recreation programs. 

That's just a short list of the city's challenges; challenges impacting communities across this city - some more than others.

So we might think, it's time for some bold action on the part of city hall

But instead, the 2019 staff-recommended budget is a familiar sight:

  • low, low property taxes that especially benefit the most affluent while starving the city of desperately needed revenues for critical programs, services & infrastructure 
  • no new revenue tools or creative measures to pay for a better city
  • while no obvious large cuts, many flatlined budgets that don't take into account the city's urgent needs or growing population 
  • some new and enhanced programs that hint at the promise of what is possible but in the grand scheme, don't put a dent in the serious challenges we face now - problems that the city's own stats show will only get worse over time

In most years, city council votes on the budget direction they will provide to senior finance staff and division heads. However prior to an election, council does not provide that direction. For the 2019 budget, senior finance staff followed the previous directions of council - freeze your budgets, find service efficiencies, deliver more with less. That continued direction from council promises to deliver the same outcome - mounting crises, delayed action, hoped for action on the part of provincial and federal governments. It's not a direction that builds a better city.

We know from previous budget cycles that communities can make a difference, holding our elected representatives' feet to the fire to do better for our city. Budget decisions are a choice. We can demand better.

Read our recent Toronto Star op-ed on this topic: "Our Choices Will Determine If We Are Toronto the Good".

Budget Highlights

From our first round of analysis (with more to come): 

  • The tax-supported operating budget is not balanced. Council is required by law to pass a balanced budget where revenues equal expenses. Here's the gap: Chris Murray, the new City Manager says he needs to cut $10 million from the budget and that it will come from non-union staff with details to follow; the TTC budget is short $24 million and will need to identify those cuts sometime in 2019; the city has asked the federal government for $45.4 million from the federal government for its shelter system citing the rise in the number of refugees requiring shelter in Toronto. (Of note, the city's shelter system has been full, over its own 90% occupancy standard, for many years - prior to the rise in the number of refugees to Toronto.)
  • Toronto's residential property taxes are the lowest among all municipalities in the GTHA and Ottawa. The draft budget includes an inflationary increase of 2.55%. For a homeowner with an average house with an assessed value of $665,605, their 2019 annual property tax bill will be $3,020, an increase of $104 over 2018 rates. That's an additional $8.67 a month.
  • The blended property tax increase which takes into account residential, multi-residential and non-residential increases will fall below inflation at just 1.8%. A rate this low doesn't even cover the rising costs of providing programs and services, much less provide resources for the many urgent needs we have in the city or support services for a growing population.
  • Under the City of Toronto Act, the city could introduce new revenue tools to raise funds to pay for services and infrastructure but it has not done so since the land transfer tax was introduced (and the vehicle registration which was in, and then out). 
  • The budget refers to inflationary increases in a number of spots. You might expect the inflation rate would be one specific figure but in this budget it varies. Inflation for residential property taxes is 2.55% but for recreation user fees (which are more regressive, likely affecting more modest income groups), it's 3.07% (and in fact, these recreation fees are set to increase by an additional 1 percentage point over inflation for a total of 4.07%). The budget includes inflationary increases for nonprofit community organizations that deliver services on behalf of the city. That's good news because the cost of delivering those services goes up each year. But why is the inflationary increase 2.1% in the Community Partnership and Investment Program, 2.1% for nonprofit child care providers and 1% for nonprofit emergency shelter providers when other inflationary rates in the same budget are higher? 
  • The city is entering the fifth year of its 20-year Poverty Reduction Strategy. This budget includes $11.9 million (gross - i.e. all revenue sources including municipal and provincial funding) and $9.5 million (net - i.e. from municipal revenues only) in new funding for the Poverty Reduction Strategy. This is the lowest level of new investment in poverty reduction since the strategy was adopted. UPDATE: In communication with city staff, staff have indicated that there are additional new investments that are not reflected in the city's $11.9 million figure. We will provide updates in posts to follow this week.
  • The city has a plan to open new shelters, adding 1,000 new beds over three years (2018-2020). As people trying to survive this crisis well know, that's way too slow. But even progress on the three year plan is slow moving. Staff cite significant problems acquiring suitable space for shelters and the competitive real estate market. Meanwhile, we are relying in large measure on respite centres (formerly known as warming centres) to shelter people who are homeless. Respite centres don't meet shelter standards. They should be, at best, a temporary measure. That's not the case. City council voted down motions last week to pass an emergency declaration on homelessness. A majority on council also voted against a motion recognizing housing as a human right. 
  • The critical lack of truly affordable housing, including supportive housing, is driving the homelessness crisis. The city budget shows only 434 new "affordable" rental units are expected to be completed in 2019 - most of which will not be deeply affordable for people with low incomes. Meanwhile, the social housing waiting list is expected to hit 110,595 households in 2019 and increase to 118,502 by 2021, according to the city's figures. On top of that, the Toronto Community Housing repair backlog is expected to rise from $1.763 billion in 2019 to a whopping $3.161 billion in ten years' time. If we don't fill the financial gap, more tenant homes will be shuttered. We can't afford to lose a single affordable home in this city.
  • Meanwhile, the city is investing heavily into an unnecessarily expensive Gardiner Expressway rebuild and a one-stop Scarborough subway. Scarborough residents deserve a better transit system and could have one if those funds were properly allocated to better transit options that would improve services for more Scarborough residents.
  • The TTC board has voted for a 10 cent per ride fare increase. The increase also affects the discount fares provided to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients under Phase 1 of the Transit Fare Equity Program. The budget proposes to cut back the phase 2 expansion to provide discounted fares and passes for child care subsidy recipients only, excluding social housing tenants who were supposed to be part of the phase 2 expansion. Services are failing to deliver for residents across the city and particularly, in the inner suburbs. On top of that, the TTC recently released new figures, revealing that $33 billion will be needed for TTC capital requirements over the next 15 years. Meanwhile, transit riders get the short end of the stick.
  • The budget includes funds for 210 new child care subsidies for low income families and additional funds to make child care more affordable. That's a move in the right direction. However, most recent figures show almost 12,000 children on the waiting list for subsidized child care. As a cost-shared program with the provincial government, parents, child care providers and advocates are keeping a close eye on the provincial government's budget.
  • Toronto has 10 long term care homes. Its budget includes service efficiencies. Councillors need to have a close look to make sure these budget reductions do not negatively affect some of our most vulnerable residents. The budget includes some much-needed provincial funds that will support care for residents with complex needs - a significant issue among these residents. Most significant, the city needs to redevelop 5 of its 10 homes to meet provincial health and safety design standards that were introduced a few years ago. The city has a plan to expand the number of beds in those homes as they are redeveloped which is good news given long waiting lists, especially within the Toronto Central LHIN. Trouble is the capital funds to redevelop 4 out of 5 of these homes are not included in the 10-year capital plan. Did I mention that the population is aging, particularly the 85+ group that is most likely to need long term care, and that the need is only going to grow?
  • The budget includes funds for 7,500 new recreation spaces as part of a 5-year Recreation Growth Strategy to address a lengthy waiting list for recreation. That sounds good except the original plan was a 3-year strategy with 25,000 new spaces to be added in 2019, not 7,500. Last year's plan called for 60,000 new spaces over 3 years with 10,000 in 2018, 25,000 in 2019, and 25,000 in 2020. After a bunch of good advocacy in 2018 on the part of community members and supportive councillors, the 10,000 figure was increased to 20,000. Hurray! This year's budget increases the target to 70,000 spaces but stretches it out over 5 years (a familiar fate for many multi-year strategies). The 5-year strategy includes 20,000 in 2018, 7,500 in 2019, 15,000 in 2020, 15,000 in 2021, 12,500 in 2022 for a total of 70,000. Kicking the can down the road.
  • Also on recreation, the budget cuts the Welcome Policy by $600,000. The Welcome Policy provides subsidies for low income residents to participate in registered recreation programs in centres where fees are charged. The Welcome Policy has been cut in previous years as well with staff citing underuse of the fund. The decline in the use of the Welcome Policy dates back to a change in how the policy was administered in 2012 when it moved from a "program credit to a dollar value subsidy". Rather than a decline in need, the decline in use is likely a product of the design of the Welcome Policy. Meanwhile, recent news coverage has put a spotlight on the experience of residents in low income neighbourhoods who cannot access city-run recreation programs. As mentioned earlier, recreation user fees are set to rise by 4.07%.
  • Toronto City Council has a youth equity strategy which identifies 28 key issues faced by youth most vulnerable to involvement in violence and crime that the city and its partners must address. Related to the strategy, the budget includes $2.6 million in additional funding for youth grants, alternatives to criminalization, youth violence prevention, supports for parents of vulnerable youth, and other programs. The library budget also includes funding for two new youth hubs and seasonal Sunday library service at eight libraries. The city has also applied for national crime prevention funding that could bring increase funding for youth programs.

  • In the wake of a record number of homicides in 2018, many residents, community groups, and city councillors are calling for increased funding for youth programs, particularly those most vulnerable for involvement in violence and crime. Councillor Matlow has proposed funding for 20 additional youth after-school programs. It would cost $3.1 million a year. According to the councillor, it would put one after-school program within 2 km of every child and youth in the city. That's an exciting idea. We need to move beyond the current glacial pace of action at city hall to recognize the urgency of the situation before us.

  • The Toronto Public Health budget includes new funds to ensure the full funding of the student nutrition program (CLARIFICATION: budget includes additional funding to achieve the final goal of 20% city funding contribution to student nutrition-a cost shared program; that's in the budget but new funds to expand into independent schools are not included. Board of Health recommended the expansion into independent schools but the staff recommended budget doesn't include those funds. This expansion into independent schools was not part of the original student nutrition investment plan.). The budget includes funding for the final year of the Toronto Urban Health Fund expansion plan and several new initiatives related to harm reduction, infection prevention and control in shelters and respite centres, collection of health data among the homeless population, related communications strategies, and a service delivery review.
  • Some additional Toronto Public Health initiatives referred to the budget process and recommended by the Board of Health are not included in the draft budget: funding for Creating Health Plus, a partnership program which provides nutritious foods to 29 drop-ins and for the Toronto Food Policy Council which provides support to food champions in diverse neighbourhoods. The total cost for these two programs is $85,000 from all revenue sources. However, the city contribution would be just $22,000.

Budget Dates & Docs

  • Budget Committee meets on February 4 and 6 to review the budget. That's two days to review $13.46 billion in operating budgets and $40.67 billion in 10-year capital budgets.
  • Budget Committee members hear from the public at the deputations/public hearings on February 7 and 11. Sign up to speak - info at the top of this post!
  • Budget Committee completes its review of the budget and votes on its recommendations on February 13 and 20.
  • Mayor's Executive Committee meets on March 4 to review the budget and vote on its recommendations.
  • The full City Council meets on March 7 to review and vote on the final budget.

Check out the City of Toronto's 2019 budget page for all city budget documents.


Budget Events

Social Planning Toronto is working with its partners to host budget events in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York. As well, we're encouraging city councillors to hold annual budget town halls. Some have announced dates or are in the process of organizing sessions. Here's the most recent info:

  • NEW DATE! Friday, February 8: Deputation Workshop, Bathurst-Finch Hub, 540 Finch Avenue West, 6-8 PM. Co-presented by  Action for Neighbourhood Change + Unison Health & Community Services, Bathurst-Finch Social Action Group, North York Community House, and Social Planning Toronto.
  • POSTPONED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER! Tuesday, February 12: Don Valley North Budget Townhall with Councillor Carroll, Fairview Library, Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive, 6:30-8:30 PM.


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