2020 City Budget: Council Passes Final Budget

On February 19, Toronto City Council passed the 2020 City budget, concluding this year's budget process. In this post, we look at what's in, what's out, and where we go from here.

crowd on outdoor ice rink

Photo by Sunyu Kim from Pexels

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

To recap --

On January 10, the City of Toronto's staff-recommended budget was launched. The preliminary budget included $27 million in efficiencies, $108 million in program/agency savings, $61 million from budgeting to actuals, and an additional $51 million in savings over 2 years related to implementation of the Value Based Outcome Review

The preliminary budget also included $67 million gross, $45 million net for new and enhanced programs in the following areas:

  • Poverty reduction ($15.2948 million gross, $4.7224 million net) such as creating an intersectional gender equity strategy and unit, expansion of Swim to Survive program, expansion of community recreation spaces, new enhanced youth spaces and youth hubs, additional outreach workers, additional Sunday library service, and other programs; expansion of the low income seniors dental care program was the biggest part of these new poverty reduction programs (100% provincially funded; $9.0756 million of the $15.2948 million)
  • Climate related ($5.9381 million gross, $3.0707 million net), including advancement of TransformTO, the City's climate action plan
  • Safety and security ($27.7724 million gross, $22.5648 million net); some of the largest components are for Toronto Police Services ($11.3 million gross, $10.3 million net; for new police officers for Priority Response Unit, Neighbourhood Community Officers, Vision Zero ($8.8 million gross, $7.8 million net) and body worn cameras ($2.5 million gross and net)), Fire Life Safety Program enhancements ($3.6665 million gross, $2.8698 million net), Toronto Paramedic Services ($3.5551 million gross, $1.8273 million net for additional staff resources to address increased call demand and an adjustment related to Fire Life Safety), and Social Development, Finance & Administration ($3.0344 million gross, $1.3513 million net; federal funds to cover community safety and well-being plan, crisis response expansion, TO WARDS Peace plan; municipal funds to cover Downtown East 5-year action plan)   
  • Transit ($9.5076 million gross and net) for fare policy review, anti-racism initiative, Eglinton LRT start-up, increased service reliability, reduce Wheel Trans wait times and abandoned calls, and other programs
  • Other areas ($8.5114 million gross, $5.1329 million net) which includes small amounts across a variety of programs; the largest component is $2.5 million gross and net for strategic investment priorities in culture and Year of Public Art; funds are also included to advance the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism  

See the full new and enhanced list presented at the budget launch here (Appendix 2.1)

 

Since the budget launch on January 10, changes to the budget have been passed by Budget Committee on February 4, by Executive Committee on February 13, and by City Council on February 19. Here are the changes:

Budget Changes Made by the Budget Committee on February 4

1) Violence reduction / addressing roots of youth violence programs and services added to the budget ($5.9831 million gross, $5.8831 million net):

  • New community youth violence prevention grants, expansion of community crisis response grants, hospital-based violence intervention program pilot, Regent Park social development plan (community safety; and economic and community development) (all programs under Social Development, Finance and Administration division)
  • Add 8 youth hubs in 2020 in public libraries (staff-recommended budget already included 2 new youth hubs; Budget Committee's move results in 10 new youth hubs in public libraries to open in 2020)
  • Accelerate 6 youth spaces to 2020 in recreation centres (staff-recommended budget already included 4 new youth spaces; Budget Committee's move results in 20 new enhanced youth spaces in recreation centres to open in 2020)

2) Other programs and services added to the budget ($2.9933 million gross, $1.9135 million net):

  • Ravine Strategy - invasive species and litter clean up. In January 2020, Toronto City Council unanimously passed the Toronto Ravine Strategy implementation plan to "clean up and protect the city's more than 300-km ravine system". (under the Parks, Forestry and Recreation division)
  • Ravine Strategy - capital project delivery (under the Parks, Forestry and Recreation division)
  • Expanded scope of Missing Persons Review (under Toronto Police Services Board)
  • Animal services - response to provincial changes (under Municipal Licensing and Standards division)
  • FleetShare Project implementation (operating) (under Fleet Services division)
  • Scarborough Restaurant Promotional Program (under Economic Development and Culture division)
  • Applegrove - Food Hub at Glen Rhodes Church (under Association of Community Centres)
  • Applegrove - staffing enhancements (under Association of Community Centres)

The Budget Committee identified funding sources to cover the costs of these new and enhanced services, including taking funds from reserve accounts and reducing contributions to reserve accounts from Municipal Land Transfer Tax revenues that had been planned.

At the February 4 meeting, the Budget Committee voted to deny the Lobbyist Registrar and the Ombudsman an increase in funding to pay for needed staff to provide services ($369,100), redirecting these funds to pay for some of the new and enhanced services described above. Council has denied requests for additional funding for these accountability offices in previous years as well. On February 13, the Executive Committee voted to reverse part of the Budget Committee's decision - to provide the additional funding to expand services in the Ombudsman's office, but NOT to provide the additional funding for the Lobbyist Registrar. Read more here, here, and here.

 

Budget Changes Made by the Executive Committee on February 13

New and enhanced programs and services added to the budget ($1.3447 million gross and net):

  • Provide the additional funding to Ombudsman Toronto, as included in that accountability office's budget request (reversing the Budget Committee decision to deny this additional funding)
  • Temporary funding for the Office of the Auditor General to address emerging cybersecurity risks and high-risk fraud and waste complaints 
  • Additional funding for the Year of Public Art (under Economic Development and Culture division)

The Executive Committee voted to fund these additional services by reducing the amount of revenue from property taxes that was going to be transferred into the capital budget (i.e. a reduction of capital from current).

 

Final Budget Changes Made by City Council on February 19

New and enhanced programs and services added to the budget:

  • Yonge-Dundas Square enhanced security ($187,000 gross, $0 net)
  • One-time emergency funding for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre for community program costs to keep things going while the centre develops and implements a transition plan ($161,000 gross, $0 net)
  • Expand library hours by 5,538 hours annually in the following 8 Toronto Public Library branches to allow for the full operation of youth hubs: Centennial, Downsview, Flemington Park, Jane/Dundas, Kennedy/Eglinton, Mount Dennis, Sanderson, and Weston ($858,000 gross, $0 net)
  • Expand the EPIC eviction prevention program ($1.07 million gross, $0 net)

What else happened?

  • Councillor Layton's motion requesting a staff report on "possible approaches to implementing a commercial parking levy, as a dedicated revenue stream for transit, climate initiatives and investment in resilience" passed; this is the first step in the possible adoption of a new and significant revenue source for transit and climate action; report will go to the Executive Committee before the 2021 budget process
  • Councillor Wong-Tam's moved a motion requesting a report to examine the idea of reintroducing the Vehicle Registration Tax which failed; the Vehicle Registration Tax was a short-lived revenue source for the city, axed in 2011; City staff reported that the City would have raised $550 million since 2011 if the tax had not been eliminated
  • Councillor Matlow's motion to reverse the PRESTO fare increase for youth and post-secondary monthly passes failed
  • Councillor Perks' motion to provide $750,000 for the establishment of the Housing Commissioner's office failed; a report on the establishment of the Housing Commissioner's office, including funding requirements, will come forward to Council in the third quarter of 2020; more on housing here
  • Two of Councillor Fletcher's motions passed: one requesting a report on "the number of tickets issues for traffic enforcement by Police Division for the years 2010 to 2019 and the corresponding revenues to inform the 2021 budget process"; another for a June 2020 staff report to include information on "appropriate City actions and identification of any new resources and/or budget adjustments needed that respond to renovictions and ways to improve housing stability for renters"
  • Councillor Layton's motion passed requesting a report by April 2020 "with a plan to facilitate completion of the Indian Residential School Survivors Legacy Structure project in Nathan Phillips Square"
  • Councillor Bailao's motion passed which made a small amendment to an Executive Committee motion requesting a report on the potential of a vacant home tax; the report goes to Executive Committee on April 17; it's the next step in the process for the possible implementation of a vacant home tax

Also of note ...

  • While this budget does expand library hours through new seasonal Sunday service at 8 branches and additional hours for full implementation of 8 youth hubs in libraries, this year's budget did not include funds for Toronto Public Library's Open Hours plan ($5.1255 million gross and net for Phase 1 and 2), a plan to dramatically expand library hours across the city
  • The budget does not include funding for expansion of the Transit Fare Equity Program. The program was established to provide discount transit fares and passes to low income residents and is a central component of the City's Poverty Reduction Strategy. The program was partially implemented in 2018-19 to provide discount fares for social assistance recipients and families receiving child care subsidies. However, the program is not open to most low income residents. Staff say they need to work out the logistics of implementing the final phase of the program. The budget includes funds for consultants to make that happen. Staff confirmed that the final phase of the program is on track for implementation in April or May 2021. According to City budget documents, the cost for full implementation of the program in 2021 will be $23.244 million. That amount is considerably more than the City contributed in this year's budget to all new and enhanced poverty reduction programs. Residents struggling with low incomes need the City to meet that commitment in 2021.

The Mayor and City Council took an important step forward in the 2020 budget process, by increasing revenues for the City Building Fund.The decision will allow the City to borrow an additional $6.6 billion for public transit and affordable housing infrastructure. After 10 years of austerity budgets, it is a welcome change. This additional revenue is desperately needed ... and it is not enough to address the city's urgent needs.

Even with the extra funding from the City Building Fund, the City's State of Good Repair backlog is set to rise substantially over the next decade. For example, the transportation backlog is set to rise from $3.2 billion today to just over $4 billion over the next decade; the TTC with the benefit of the City Building Fund will rise from $71 million to $7.8 billion over the next decade without additional resources. Several Councillors remarked that the City has a revenue problem and big challenges that will only intensify in the years to come if action is not taken. That's the work ahead in 2020 and over the decade to come.

That's a wrap on the 2020 City budget process.

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