It’s been a busy week at Budget Committee! About 270 Toronto residents participated in Budget Sub-Committee deputation sessions on Monday and Tuesday. The Budget Committee concluded the week with a review of new briefing notes prepared by City staff and voted on a motion that puts forward several recommendations to inform the Mayor’s budget, set to be released on February 1.
Residents Call on City Council to Invest in Services and Turn the Corner on a City in Decline
Over two days and across four locations, approximately 270 Toronto residents were out in force to share their ideas, priorities, and concerns with members of the Budget Committee at the public deputation sessions. Residents, community agencies, and other groups took part in the packed sessions, participating in person and online.
Key themes included support for turning the corner on austerity budgets, addressing inadequate funding that leaves critical services under-resourced, and prioritizing strong public services and communities in crisis. While some deputants raised concerns about the property tax increase, many supported the move to better resource vital services.
The Toronto Police budget was an area of great debate, with deputants covering a full range of perspectives from increasing the police budget, cutting the police budget, shifting resources from officers to civilians and from the police to social services and supports, as well as calls for de-tasking, defunding, and abolishing the police.
Deputants cited evidence from a recent University of Toronto study showing “no consistent association” between police funding and crime rates and called for investment in social programs that promote community safety and reduce the incidence of crime. Others detailed acts of police brutality and targeting that left communities, particularly Black and other racialized communities, unsafe. Questions were posed about the degree of work done by police that is outside the services that they are legally mandated to provide and whether there was opportunity for change.
Many residents called for greater investment in community supports and programming to address concerns around safety and endorsed a community-based approach to community safety, rather than increases in the police budget. Some deputants were under the false impression that the City budget included a cut to police funding, when in fact, it recommends millions more for the Toronto Police Service compared to last year.
Surprisingly, deputants largely supported the proposed property tax increase. While some felt the increase was too high, the majority who spoke on the issue stated their support as a necessary measure to properly fund City services. Some residents were not aware of the City’s programs that protect seniors and people with disabilities with modest and low incomes from unaffordable property tax and rate increases.
The crisis of affordability in food insecurity and housing emerged as a key issue through many deputations. Residents spoke about high and growing rates of food bank use. They explained that food insecurity is connected to a lack of housing affordability, where many people are forced to spend a high percentage of their income on housing and do not have enough money left for food. Residents asked the City to prioritize food security programs and affordable housing initiatives to protect existing stock and acquire and build new affordable homes.
Deputants spoke in favour of a variety of housing, eviction prevention, and tenant support programs. Advocates called for sufficient resources to implement the new regulatory framework for multi-tenant homes, including support for tenants, and a change to the cap on the number of rooms permitted in each home. Concerns were raised that the cap may make multi-tenant homes unprofitable for operators, resulting in a sell-off of homes and a wave of evictions that will leave more people homeless and put greater pressure on the shelter system.
Several deputants discussed the problems posed by “renovictions” and proposed that the City create a bylaw that would disincentivize landlords from engaging in this practice. In addition, many speakers called for greater investment in the Rent Bank program, the Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program, and the Multi-Unit Residential Acquisition (MURA) program to preserve affordable rental housing.
The state of the shelter system and its lack of capacity to provide shelter to hundreds of unhoused people each night was an issue of deep concern for many. Deputants asked for more resources to support our most vulnerable neighbours. On a related note, the City has asked the federal government to provide $250 million to meet its responsibilities with regard to the shelter and support needs of refugees in this year’s budget. With still no word from the federal government, many expressed concerns about the growing crisis for refugees who have fled situations of violence in their home countries and are now trying to survive on Toronto streets.
Deputants also called for a moratorium on encampment clearings, particularly given the state of the shelter system and the dire lack of affordable housing. Speakers noted that it is irrational to move people "from encampments to nowhere", traumatizes residents - many of whom are already trauma survivors, and offers no useful solution. They urged Council to follow a human rights approach and respect the rights of residents in encampments.
Reflecting on City budget decisions, one deputant summed up the challenges before City Council simply and succinctly stating, “Budgeting is about making choices.” With limited resources, it is necessary to make choices about what gets prioritized and what does not. Throughout the budget process, in pre-budget consultants, telephone town halls, and deputation sessions, Torontonians have made clear that the Mayor and Council need to take a new approach that funds vital services, responds to urgent community needs, and turns the corner on our city in decline.
SPT Executive Director Jin Huh Calls on City Council to Learn From Past Mistakes and Fund a Better, More Equitable City
In her deputation, our Executive Director, Jin Huh, spoke in support of the proposed property tax increase as an important step toward adequately funding a city that cares about everyone. She advocated for increased investment to address Toronto's growing homelessness emergency, prevent further homelessness, and respond to the widespread crisis of poverty in our city. She called into question the rationale for increasing the police budget and urged Council to learn from past mistakes of austerity approaches and begin to invest in a better, more equitable city.
Taking Responsible Action, Putting Communities at the Centre of the Budget Process
SPT, along with many of our partners, have been calling on City Council to adequately fund our city. And for the first time in a long time, we feel that City Hall is truly listening and is ready to make responsible decisions to build a city that cares about everyone.
A Good Return on Investment
Investing in the City is a good return on investment. The proposed property tax increase will mean more hours at the local public library, continued access to local community centres and the free and low cost programs there, a TTC fare freeze along with improved paramedic and fire services, improved mental health crisis response, and increased shelter spaces and services for our neighbours, who are sleeping outside in the bitter cold, and who my six-year old is very concerned about. I think that’s a pretty good deal. And, even after the proposed increase, Toronto will still have one of the lowest property tax rates in Ontario.
A Budget that Moves the City Forward, But Falls Short for Our Most Vulnerable Neighbours
Despite important new investments, the budget still falls far short of what is needed to support those who are really struggling across the city, including those who are living outside, those who are at risk of losing their housing, and the 1 in 10 Torontonians who must rely on food banks.
Bigger Police Budgets Don't Deliver Community Safety
Studies show there is no clear correlation between police spending and crime rates in Canada. And there is not enough transparency in the Police budget to warrant any additional increases. Both facts and due diligence don’t line up for any increase to the police budget.
Learning from the Mistakes of the Past
My greatest hope for the 2024 City budget is that we learn from past mistakes that put Toronto in the crises we are currently in, and we pay particular attention to those struggling and the evidence that shows that investing in strong social programs yields communities that are healthier and thriving, not to mention longer-term savings for the health and justice systems.
SPT was glad to join with hundreds of passionate, caring and committed residents and groups, advocating for a better, more equitable and sustainable city.
Budget Committee Makes Recommendations for the Mayor’s Budget
At its January 26 meeting, the Budget Committee provided advice to the Mayor on her budget, which is set to be released on February 1. The committee voted unanimously in favour of the following motion:
The Budget Committee:
- Acknowledged and thanked the tens of thousands of Torontonians who participated in pre-budget consultations, telephone town halls, and Budget Committee deputations, and provided written submissions sharing their priorities for our City.
Recommended that the Mayor, in addition to the considerations outlined in the staff budget, continue to work with the City Manager and members of Council to find opportunities and necessary offsets to amend or enhance the 2024 Operating and Capital Budgets in time for the February 14, 2024, City Council meeting that include the following:
- Improving affordability for residents and build upon existing programs that support renters, tenants, and those at risk of homelessness;
- A multi-residential property tax increase below the threshold to prevent above-guideline rent increases;
- An inflationary increase to the Community Partnership and Investment Program of 4.2 percent;
- The continuation of the Winter Windrow Clearing Program in the areas of the city where the service is already provided; and
- In collaboration with frontline emergency services including Toronto Community Crisis Response, Toronto Fire, Toronto Police Services, and Toronto Paramedic Services, as well as Social Development, Finance and Administration, to look for opportunities to prevent violence, improve safety and combat hate, reduce response times, and any additional proposals that modernize service and align with City priorities.
- Recommended that the Mayor propose a Capital Budget and plan to City Council based on a 10-year extension of the City Building Levy.
- Recommended that the Mayor continue to advocate to the Federal government on the reimbursement for the City’s 2023 refugee housing costs and commitment for the City’s 2024 refugee housing costs and those costs on an ongoing basis, all of which fall under the Federal government’s responsibility for refugees and immigration.
- Recommended that the Mayor direct the City Manager and the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer to report directly to the February 14, 2024, City Council Budget meeting on options for the service reductions and/or funding sources, including the option to implement a Federal Impacts Levy, to address the $250 million in uncommitted funds from the Federal government for refugee shelter response, if required.
- Recommended that the Mayor request the City Manager to work with the Chief, Toronto Police Service, and Toronto Police Services Board on a multi-year complement management plan.
- Recommended that the Mayor request the City Manager to expedite the reporting on the Long-Term Financial Plan actions relating to Rolling Program Review and Treasury Board functions to realize further in-year savings.
Recommended that the Mayor request the City Manager to report to Executive Committee’s July 2024 meeting on a proposed plan for reallocation of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway capital allocation with the report to include:
- Transportation Services State of Good Repair;
- TTC State of Good Repair;
- Parks, Forestry and Recreation State of Good Repair; and
- Acceleration of delayed projects in the capital plan such as ice rinks, cricket pitches, pickleball, and winterized washrooms.
Recommended that the Mayor request the City Manager and Chief Financial Officer to continue to work with management to find opportunities for further efficiencies and savings, with such savings being used to mitigate the 2025 property tax increase, this includes:
- All employees being surveyed by their managers for ideas to save on purchases, including uniforms, furniture, and equipment;
- All employees being surveyed by their managers to identify savings in travel, overtime, and consulting fees; and
- All employees are engaged in creating a culture that celebrates completing projects on-time and on/under-budget.
Will Mayor Chow take the advice? All will be revealed on February 1, with the launch of the Mayor’s budget. Final decisions rest with City Council. Council will vote on amendments to the Mayor’s budget at its February 14 meeting. It will also vote on property tax rates at that meeting.
Briefing Notes on the Toronto Police Service Budget Now Available
City staff have produced a new series of briefing notes, as requested by the Budget Committee. These short reports provide additional information about City programs, services, and budget issues.
Here’s a helpful tidbit from Briefing Note 17 on the Toronto Police Service (TPS) budget:
- The 2024 Operating Budget reflects an increase above 2023 funding levels;
- $12.6 million reflects the difference between the increase approved by the Police Board and the increase reflected in the staff-prepared budget; and
- The staff-prepared budget includes $59.7 million in added budget actions (excluding the funding provision for collective bargaining units in 2024) to offset added pressures in the 2024 Police Budget, equivalent to an 5.2% (plus) increase in funding.
The TPS budget briefing note clears up some misconceptions about the police budget. Rather than cutting the budget, the City is contributing $59.7 million in added budget support, including $25 million from property tax revenues. Those figures don’t include the additional funding the City will provide to cover salary and benefit increases resulting from the Toronto Police Association’s new collective agreement, expected to be settled later this year.
Here’s another fun fact: According to Briefing Note 16, the TPS spent almost $300,000 producing its “24 Shades of Blue” podcast between 2020 and 2023. The briefing note includes more information about the podcast, TPS’s mounted unit, and its communications consulting budget.
Check out yesterday’s City Budget Watch post for a deeper dive into the police budget, as well as the City’s new briefing notes on the TPS budget.
- City of Toronto, Briefing Note 17: 2024 City Staff Prepared Budget for Toronto Police Service
- City of Toronto, Briefing Note 16: Toronto Police Service — Annual Operating Budget for the Mounted Unit, 24 Shades of Blue podcast and Communications Consulting
City of Toronto Briefing Notes
Here’s the full list of briefing notes to pore over this weekend.
- Briefing Note 1 – 2024 Budget Briefing Notes – Public Consultations on the 2024 Budget
- Briefing Note 2 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – Update on Circular Economy Partnerships in 2023
- Briefing Note 3 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – Basement Flooding Protection Program – Program Status Update and Project List: 2024 to 2028
- Briefing Note 4 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Parking Tags Enforcement and Operations
- Briefing Note 5 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy
- Briefing Note 6 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Equity Impacts in the Prepared Budget
- Briefing Note 7 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Summary of User Fee Adjustments in the Prepared Budget
- Briefing Note 8 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Carbon Budget Baseline
- Briefing Note 9 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – State of Good Repair (SOGR) Backlog
- Briefing Note 10 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Summary of 2024 Service Levels in the Prepared Budget
- Briefing Note 11 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Budget Reductions and Offsets
- Briefing Note 12 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT) Rebate Program for First-Time Homebuyers
- Briefing Note 13 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Consideration of a Municipal Lottery
- Briefing Note 14 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (BBTCA) – Feasibility for a Potential Tax Levy Per Passenger
- Briefing Note 15 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Updated Long-Term Financial Plan: Status Update
- Briefing Note 16 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Toronto Police Service – Annual Operating Budget for the Mounted Unit, 24 Shades of Blue Podcast and Communications Consulting
- Briefing Note 17 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – 2024 City Staff Prepared Budget for Toronto Police Service
- Briefing Note 18 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Toronto’s Share of the Federal Cannabis Excise Duty
- Briefing Note 19 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Toronto For All: A Public Education Initiative to Support Civic Resiliency and Address Rising Hate
- Briefing Note 20 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Extensions of Provincial and Federal Responsibilities
- Briefing Note 21 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Additional Transformative Climate Initiatives
- Briefing Note 22 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – EarlyON Child and Family Centres
- Briefing Note 23 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Status Update on City-run and City-subsidized Child Care Centres
- Briefing Note 24 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Investment in Small Business Support
- Briefing Note 25 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs in Toronto
- Briefing Note 26 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – MLS Staffing Levels for Enhanced Response Bylaw Enforcement
- Briefing Note 27 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Number of Full-time Equivalents and Vacancies within Transit Expansion allocated by Transit Program
- Briefing Note 28 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – RentSafeTO Resources
- Briefing Note 29 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Costs and Travel Times for North-York Bylaw Enforcement
- Briefing Note 30 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Cost-Recovery for Short-Term Rental Fees
- Briefing Note 31 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy – Year by Year Budgeted Expenditures
- Briefing Note 32 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Community Benefits Charge (CBC) Update
- Briefing Note 33 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Funding to Support Renters: RentSafeTO, MURA, Community Land Trusts, and Rental Housing Demolition Process
- Briefing Note 34 – 2024 Operating Budget Briefing Note – Cost to Print Agenda Materials for Members
- Briefing Note 35 – 2024 Budget Briefing Note – Contributions to and Withdrawals from Reserves/Reserve Funds
- Briefing Note 36 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – The Scarborough Waterfront Project
- Briefing Note 37 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – Toronto Transit Commission Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) Busway Status Update
- Briefing Note 38 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – Ravine Strategy and Meadoway
- Briefing Note 39 – 2024 Capital Budget Briefing Note – Indoor and Outdoor Recreational Capital Investments for Ice Skating and Cricket and Winterized Washrooms
Many thanks to TMU social work student Isabella Castellano for her writing and contributions to the deputation highlights. Isabella is completing her fourth-year placement with SPT. She would like Toronto City Council to prioritize healthy communities and public health programs in this year’s budget.