Here’s what’s changing in the GTA in 2016

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A slew of changes awaits Toronto residents in the New Year, some cloudy as shisha smoke, others precise as an Uber app — and many demanding a wider wallet as well.

Hookah lounges are banned in Toronto effective April 1. Last month’s prohibition by city council outlaws smoking — tobacco or otherwise — from a water pipe at city-licensed businesses, with at least 70 establishments and thousands of patrons affected.

The ban follows recommendations from the city’s medical officer of health outlining significant risks to the public, including sending the wrong message to youth.

What happens to those 70-plus businesses is a little murkier. Theva Sri, co-owner of Shishalicious on Jarvis St. near Dundas St. E., said adapting is not an option, likely forcing him to close shop and find new work along with his employees.

“I don’t want to sell alcohol. Alcohol is not our culture,” said Sri, a Sri Lankan immigrant whose business partner hails from Jordan.

Medical officer David McKeown told council in November that hookah smoking has been scientifically linked to chronic health problems, sets back efforts to discourage young people from taking up smoking and puts bystanders, including employees, at risk from poor air quality.

The regulations, affecting all 15,000 local Uber drivers, would zero in on consumer protection, demanding stringent criminal record checks for drivers, mechanical inspections and compliance records — just like what is required of taxi and limousine operators. The changes hinge on how city council votes.

Use of the disruptive ride-booking service is on the rise — along with customer satisfaction — and taxi operators have responded with protest and frustration.

Mayor John Tory is hoping to freeze annual taxi licensing fees, which typically rise in lockstep with inflation, after blowback from cab companies complaining of unfair competition from Uber.

Passengers looking to avoid both will have to dole out a little more than usual on the TTC. Transit riders will pay an extra 25 cents for cash fares — $3.25 total — and an added dime per token — $2.90 — in the New Year. Metropass prices remain frozen, as do TTC senior and student fares.

Toronto water rates are spurting up 8 per cent, effective Jan. 1. That amounts to $966 paid out for H2O by the average household in 2016 — a $72 increase — according to the city. The projected cost for all residential drinking water as well as waste-water and storm-water services is pegged at about $2.65 per home per day.

Toronto Hydro now has permission to push distribution rates higher through 2019, retroactive to May 2015. The utility has not yet offered specifics on a rate increase, but the Ontario Energy Board — which approved the bump-up this week — has suggested the jolted rate would amount to about $40 a year for the average household.

Homeowners will also shell out an extra 2.75 per cent in property taxes in 2015-16. The total tax increase — including a 0.5-per-cent levy to pay for the Scarborough subway — becomes 3.2 per cent with adjustments for the current value of properties, amounting to an annual increase of $83 for the average household.

A 4 per cent increase in Mississauga’s portion of the Peel Region property tax bill translates into a bump of $47.24 for a home assessed at $400,000.

A 6.07 per cent tax increase for the city’s share of the 2015-16 property bill means an increase of about $134 for an average residential home assessed at $381,000.

Residents of Oshawa, the largest city in Durham Region, face a 1.82 per cent municipal property tax increase, tacking on an extra $36 per for a home valued at the average $290,000.

Homeowners in Vaughan can expect a 2.9 per cent tax hike on the city’s part of their tax bill, or about $38 on an average home valued at $626,000.

Markham is seeing a rate increase of 2.5 per cent, equivalent to $27.50 for the average residential household tax bill. York Region’s largest municipality gets its smallest rate hike for 2015-16.

Dragging the can to the curb also just got a little pricier. Residents face a garbage bin fee bump of 3 per cent starting Jan. 1. The total fees for a single-family home in 2016 will be: $244.77 for small bins; $297.14 for medium; $403.55 for large; and $468.08 for extra-large.

With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and Betsy Powell

31/12/2015 07:01  By: TORONTO STAR

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