2021 City Budget: SPT's City Budget Watch is Back!

It’s beginning to look a lot like City of Toronto budget season with the City’s 2021 staff-recommended (draft) budget launch set for January 14. Back for a twelfth year, SPT’s City Budget Watch is up and running. We look forward to providing you with in-depth analysis of the City budget and sharing information on how you can get involved, learn more, and advocate for a better budget to create a more livable and equitable city for all.

You can find the City Budget Watch blog and sign up to receive regular updates at www.socialplanningtoronto.org/citybudgetwatch2021. If you received updates for the 2020 budget, we’ve got you covered. No need to resubscribe.  

Also check out our "City Budget Matters 101" series, bringing you the facts on key issues Toronto is facing today and what City Council could do in the 2021 municipal budget to make a difference. 


About the Budget

Through the budget process, Toronto City Council makes important decisions about critical programs, services, and infrastructure – what it’s going to fund (adequately or not), if it’s going to cut programs or services, if it’s going to freeze budgets (given rising program costs, a budget freeze is, in effect, a service cut), and how it’s going to pay for these vital programs. These decisions are arguably the most important that Council makes all year – they tell us whether Council is going to move the city forward and address critical issues in our communities, or not. Budget decisions reveal the priorities of City Council and shape the quality of life of residents and communities across the city throughout the year.

On January 14, Toronto City Council’s Budget Committee launches the staff-recommended tax-supported budget. The tax-supported budget includes operating budgets (to pay for the operation of programs and services) and capital budgets (to pay for infrastructure, such as purchasing buses or streetcars, or building a new library or community centre). The tax-supported budget includes all City service areas except for the Toronto Parking Authority (Green P parking), Toronto Water, and solid waste management (garbage and recycling) which are included in the rate-supported budget (which Council votes on tomorrow, December 16). Tax-supported budgets cover everything else – housing and homeless services, child care, public transit, recreation, libraries, Toronto police, emergency services, community services provided by non-profits, and much more).

The tax-supported budget is funded through property taxes (38.2% of the 2020 tax-supported budget was funded through property taxes), federal and provincial funding (21.3%), TTC fares (11.6%), user fees and fines (7.5%), Municipal Land Transfer Tax (6.9%), and other sources. In contrast, rate-supported services are paid for through user fees, including revenues from water and garbage fees and parking fees at Green P lots.


Key Budget Dates

January 14: Budget Committee launches the staff-recommended (draft) budget

January 20-22: Budget Committee meets to review the budget; City staff make presentations and answer questions

January 25-26: Budget Committee holds public presentations/deputations; members of the public share their advice, recommendations, stories, and concerns about the staff-recommended budget; everyone is welcome to participate – You don’t need to be a budget expert to take part! SPT and other organizations are here to help by providing training sessions and one-on-one support; stay tuned for details

January 28 & February 4: Budget Committee holds its wrap up and final wrap up meetings where the committee receives City staff reports and makes and votes on motions to change the staff-recommended budget; for example, the committee could vote to increase funding to a service, or shift funding from one program area to another; no decisions are final until City Council votes at its February 18-19 meeting

February 11: The Mayor’s Executive Committee meets to review the budget; the Mayor and Councillors on the Executive Committee may also move and vote on motions to make changes to the budget; final decisions rest with Council at its February 18-19 meeting

February 18-19: Toronto City Council meets to review and vote on the final 2021 tax-supported budget; this final vote is, in fact, a series of votes on individual motions to make various changes to the budget; in past budget votes, Council has moved motions to increase funding for particular programs and services and reversed recommendations for service cuts; it all depends on how a majority of Council members vote on each motion

You can watch these meetings live or check out video recordings after the meetings on Toronto City Council’s YouTube channel. All meetings start at 9:30 a.m.


Budget Meetings for City of Toronto Boards and Commissions

In addition to these key budget dates, City of Toronto Boards (such as, public health, library, police) and Commissions (TTC) meet to review and vote on their individual budgets. These bodies include some members of City Council (the Mayor and/or City Councillors) and individual citizens that are appointed by City Council. They prepare and vote on their budget proposals and submit these budget requests to the Budget Committee. Toronto City Council decides on the amount of funding to provide. The Boards and Commissions vote on how those funds will be used within their respective service areas.

Toronto Public Health’s budget proposal has already been reviewed by the Toronto Board of Health. You can read it here (check the links under Background Information). City Council will make the final decision about the amount of funding allocated to Toronto Public Health services and the Board will decide how those funds are used. Public health, always a critical service, could not be more important in the midst of a pandemic. We’ll take a look at that budget in January.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is holding public hearings/deputations on its budget on Monday, December 21, quite close to the holidays. According to TTCriders, the staff-recommended (draft) TTC budget won’t be available for people to review until Friday, December 18. That’s not a great way to encourage community participation in the TTC budget process. There’s a lot ‘riding’ on this budget, with plans for continued reduced service in 2021, problems of overcrowding on buses, and the possibility of a fare increase. (here’s some good news on increasing service on overcrowded bus routes)

Want to get involved in advocating for better transit? TTCriders, a public transit advocacy group, is helping prepare people to speak at the TTC budget meeting and with their City Councillors about transit. Join the TTCriders free online session, “How to Speak to the TTC Board”, on Thursday, December 17 at 6 p.m. Register at www.ttcriders.ca/dec17training

We’ll keep you up-to-date on the library board, police board and other budgets as the process continues.


SPT & Partners Work with Communities to Advocate for a Better Budget

SPT and many partner organizations are hard at work preparing for the 2021 City budget. Each year, we work with communities to increase understanding of the City budget, engage residents to support civic engagement, and advocate for a better budget to improve life in Toronto.

Here are some groups to connect with …

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – Stay informed with CCPA’s important public policy analysis. @CCPA_Ont

Social Planning Toronto (SPT) – Subscribe to City Budget Watch and join us to advocate for a better budget to build a better city @planningtoronto and @bethwilson416

Toronto Community for Better Child Care (TCBCC) – Join in TCBCC’s call for a comprehensive, high quality, universally accessible, non-profit, publicly funded child care system.

Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) – Sign up for the TEA newsletter to stay up-to-date on important environmental issues in Toronto and take action for a green city. @TOenviro

Toronto Youth Cabinet (TYC) – Join TYC to advocate for youth issues in Toronto. @TOYouthCabinet

TTCriders – Join TTCriders on December 17 for their “How to Speak to the TTC Board” training session in preparation for the TTC’s budget meeting on December 21. @ttcriders

Urban Alliance on Race Relations – Check out UARR’s important Police Are NOT The Answer campaign. @UARRToronto


City of Toronto Budget Resources

Check out the City of Toronto budget webpage. On budget launch day and throughout the process, the City will post budget documents and materials on their budget page. www.toronto.ca/budget


We’ll be back with all things City budget on January 4.

Wishing you a safe and wonderful holiday and happy new year.

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