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City Council Meeting Recap - Sep 6, 2023

This was the majority of our first day back at council after a short summer break with 34 proposed amendments, 4 of which were mine.

The briefing materials for this motion, the challenges the city faces along with the discussions that happened could unto themselves be a university course!

My takeaway: The City of Toronto has a big heart and wants to do kind, practical and visionary things, but lacks the authority and finances to do what it wants to do and/or needs to do. Because we are the size of a province in terms of population and economic contribution, we also need to have a measure of finances and authority to best serve our city. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, we are limited by an old fiscal framework that does not match the complexity and size of our city. There is much more to say on this in future newsletters, but we must acknowledge that the vision we hold to build an equitable, sustainable and visionary city - to truly be “Toronto the Good,” does not match our financial capacity and decision making authority.

Due to the complexity of this subject, I would first like to invite you to watch this video: A New Fiscal Framework for Municipalities: Panel discussion from FCM's 2023 Annual Conference:

And then, if you have some extra time you can read:

34 amendments/additions were considered in addition to the 15 proposals that formed the initial motion. Here is an abbreviated list of the initial 15 recommendations that were passed (some with amendments). Click Here to read a detailed list.

  1. Acknowledge there will be a $46.5 Billion hole over the next 10 years which requires multiple solutions.

  2. Graduated Municipal Land Transfer Tax for higher value residential properties.

  3. Remove $5/hr cap on street parking to open up a ward by ward analysis of parking pricing.

  4. Develop a multi-year property tax plan to bring stability to city budgeting.

  5. Budgeting process to include

    1. land transfer tax for foreign buyers of residential properties

    2. Design commercial parking levy system towards 2025 implementation

    3. Develop 911 levy already used in many jurisdictions to fund next generation 911 technology

    4. Analysis of city owned properties to maximize their benefit

    5. Review of the Imagination, Manufacturing, Innovation and Technology Financial Incentive Program, to evaluate the effectiveness and recommend changes

    6. Development Charges Background Study, and bring forward an amendment to the development charges by-law that would remove the non-residential non-ground floor exemption, for City Council consideration.

  6. Analyze feasibility of increasing Vacant home tax from 1% to 3%.

  7. Report about potential by-law to require annual reporting by buildings on their building performance with proposal to require buildings to meet specific greenhouse gas emissions standards.

  8. Request province to authorize a Municipal Sales tax that could be additional to or included in current HST.

  9. Report on implementation plan for proposed Municipal Sales Tax.

  10. Inform the Province of Ontario that the City is unable to implement the previously announced 978 new long-term care home beds in the City.

  11. Make clear to the Province the urgent need for funding transit operations and maintenance for Eglinton Crosstown (Line 5) and Finch West (Line 6).

  12. City to let Province know that in the absence of a new model to fund transit operations the City will pause negotiation of further funding agreements for the Provincial Priority Transit Projects and any future provincial transit expansion projects.

  13. Advocate with the provincial and federal governments for a new fiscal framework that is commensurate with the complexity and scope of municipal services delivered by the City of Toronto.

  14. Report back on a proposal for a land transfer tax above applicable rate where purchaser owns more than one property to curb real estate speculation.

  15. Examine creative ways to restore ridership to TTC through the Arts.

As Torontonians, we should be angry that our coffers are being starved while we contribute 21% of the Canadian GDP and 53% of the Ontario GDP while we only get 1.3% of the Provincial Budget and 0.3% of the Federal Budget.

The City does not have revenue tools that grow with the economy. While we contribute infrastructure and support for large events like FIFA, the economic benefit generated from these large events does not directly return to the city (except for a small hotel tax paid by visitors). This differs from federal and provincial governments and other large global cities.

As I looked at the array of solutions being proposed, I moved the following motions which were all passed successfully at council:

Motion 1:

City Council direct the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer to report back in the second quarter of 2024 on an approach to graduated municipal property tax rates for high value residential properties, estimated incremental revenue, and provincial authorities that would be required for implementation.

Reasoning for this motion: Many families entering the housing market are struggling with rising interest rates and lack of affordable choices. A progressive property tax could potentially alleviate the pressure on those entering the housing market. While it is unlikely the province would grant authority for this to happen, it is still worth considering how this could lighten the pressure on lower priced properties. There were concerns about how this might impact those who purchased properties many years ago whose properties have now increased in value without similar growth in their incomes. An examination of this potential tax could include exemptions or tax deferral for seniors in this situation.

Motion 2:

2. City Council direct the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer to report back in the second quarter of 2024 on an approach to graduated municipal property tax rates for properties that are not the owner’s primary residence, with appropriate exceptions such as property purchased for a direct family member, estimated incremental revenue, and provincial authorities that would be required for implementation.

Reasoning for this motion: The financialization or commoditization of housing has impacted affordability and accessibility of housing. A different property tax rate for non-primary residence properties could decrease commoditization. Again, the likelihood the province would support this is very low. However, it is worth doing an analysis and injecting this idea into the dialogue as all levels of government look for ways to address the housing crisis.

Motion 3:

1. City Council direct the City Manager to examine the City’s current and planned future process improvement activities across city divisions using business process review tools such as a lean six sigma lens and report back to the Executive Committee as part of the 2024 budget process including:

a. results to date of continuous improvement actions as part of the 2024 Divisional budget packages;

b. a process for determining which City services/activities could benefit from further continuous improvement; and

c. the City Manager and other relevant staff work with the Service Excellence working group of Councillors to determine how best to publicly report on how we are improving services towards making the City more streamlined, equitable and agile.

Reasoning for this motion: Most would agree the city should aim to be streamlined and agile. This motion is focused on strengthening our continuous improvement process and bringing in business process review tools like lean six sigma that would hopefully garner some cost savings. I received a lot of support from our City Manager for this motion as this type of approach is very much in his ethos and wheelhouse.

Motion 4:

City Council request the City Manager and Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer to prepare a briefing note on the cost reduction efforts that are already being undertaken, including those recommended in the Ernest & Young report, as part of the 2024 budget process.

Reasoning for this motion: An important part of asking for more contributions from higher levels of government is showing our stewardship of existing resources. Our City Manager has already been taking measures to make the city leaner and the Ernest & Young report has many cost cutting recommendations that will be undertaken. I feel it is important to report on these measures to bring greater transparency and accountability to the process while garnering trust from residents and upper levels of government.



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