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The City of Toronto hosted multiple telephone town hall meetings throughout the week to discuss the recently unveiled proposed city budget for 2024, which raised some concerns from both Toronto residents and city staff over key issues of public safety, better transit, and property tax hikes.
Thousands of Torontonians tuned in from 7-8:30 p.m. over the past three days to address their concerns with Mayor Olivia Chow and Toronto city staff in regards to the proposed $14.2 billion budget.
The prospective budget contains $600 million in spending cuts and savings, including a $12.6 million cut to the Toronto Police Service (TPS), which Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw warned would result in an “unacceptable risk” in a press conference after appearing before the city’s budget committee earlier Thursday afternoon.
When asked for her response during Thursday evening’s town hall, the mayor said, “I believe the police are getting a substantial increase of millions,” referring to the approximately $1.2 billion that has been allocated to Toronto Police – a modest increase from last year’s $1.16 billion budget.
Toronto Budget Committee Chair Coun. Shelley Carroll echoed this sentiment, stating that TPS are set to receive approximately 200 new police officers, the highest number of new workers across all safety services.
“Safety was very much a focus of this budget,” Carroll added.
In line with public safety, the city also plans to invest more in the TTC to not only have more workers and Special Constables working to increase security but also so it “…gets back to the pre-pandemic level so that the buses will come more frequently,” said Chow.
The mayor says it will also make way for new subway cars on Line 2 thanks to a deal made with the provincial government which is providing “$675 million just in operating the TTC,” according to the city’s Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer, Stephen Conforti.
Another point of budget controversy was the proposed property tax rise of 10.5 per cent, an annual increase of approximately $321. Although Toronto currently has amongst the lowest property tax rate of any Ontario city, the proposed hike would be the highest since the city’s amalgamation two decades ago and may even reach 16.5 per cent if the federal government chooses not to cover the city’s costs of housing refugees.
The town hall heard concerns from homeowners and senior residents of Toronto who feared potentially losing their homes as a result, however the city is offering a property tax deferral program to help combat this.
“We have the highest income bar of any property tax deferral program in the GTA and it’s indexed to inflation. This year it will be $57,200, so if your income is below that, they’ll almost certainly qualify for one of those programs,” said Carroll, encouraging those impacted to call their local councillor for more support.
Torontonians still have a chance to weigh in on the proposed budget through in-person consultations taking place across the city next week, before Mayor Olivia Chow presents her revised budget draft to the city council on Feb. 1.