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City passes 2017 budget but not everyone happy with its balance

Janet Davis questions Mayor John Tory about the rationale for staff cuts to shelter system while restoring Etobicoke leaf pickup. -YOUTUBE SCREEN CAPTURE

Janet Davis questions Mayor John Tory about the rationale for staff cuts to shelter system while restoring Etobicoke leaf pickup. -YOUTUBE SCREEN CAPTURE

After what became a torturously long 15-hour meeting on Feb. 15, Toronto City Council approved its 2017 budget.

With just a 2% hike in property taxes —said to match the rate of inflation— the budget was described by Mayor John Tory as “affordable” and “reasonable” and he also noted it includes increased spending on services such as the TTC, adds new shelter beds and invests additional money in repairing Toronto Community Housing units.

But Ward 31 Councillor Janet Davis said at one point that she was “embarrassed” to be part of a council that approved it, noting it leaves “the needs of many of the city’s most vulnerable unmet.”

At one point, while questioning the mayor on the topic of cutting ten staff positions from the shelter system (even as new beds are being added) Ms. Davis asked him how he could be sure the service cuts would not adversely affect shelter residents. He responded by noting he had agreed to sponsor a report that would assess the effect of the staff cuts “based on truth, measured, based on facts … and metrics” rather than emotional perceptions, in a few months.

Mary-Margaret McMahon urges Council not to cut subsidy to SH Armstrong pool programs. -YOUTUBE SCREEN CAPTURE

Mary-Margaret McMahon urges Council not to cut subsidy to SH Armstrong pool programs. -YOUTUBE SCREEN CAPTURE

Her mocking rejoinder —“So what are true impacts of restoring leaf pickup in Etobicoke?” — appeared to reference the fact that while the budget includes $800,000 for restoration of that service, many of the items that Davis and other EY councillors wanted left in the budget have much smaller price tags.

Ward 32 rep Mary-Margaret McMahon and Ward 30’s Paula Fletcher, for example, both argued forcefully that the $85,000 saved by deciding to redirect city swim programs away from the pool at SH Armstrong Community Centre in order to cut the subsidy to Toronto District School Board, which owns the pool, would be a big hardship on families in the area.

A motion to reverse the cut ultimately fell short on a tie vote, however, as Mayor Tory voted nay despite indicating that he would try to reverse them in reply to a January tweet urging the programs be kept there from Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak.

Earlier, Davis criticized the approach council took towards the approval process, saying it was being done backwards because before discussing the details of the operating budget council first approved a motion to fix the tax rate increase at the 2% suggested in the submitted budget.

“We should look first at what we need, then set the rate,” she said, but her motion to reverse the order failed. That meant that any subsequent decisions to increase spending or restore items would require cuts to another item or a new source of funding,

Another Davis motion to raise nearly $450,000 more in revenue by hiking the industrial tax by the same 1% amount as the business tax was also defeated.

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