Toronto city council debates 2017 budget, approves 2% property tax increase

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As Toronto city council gets set to vote on the 2017 budget, it approved a two per cent property tax increase as protests erupted outside in response to a lack of spending on social services such as affordable housing, transit and childcare.

Dozens gathered outside city hall to smash a giant piñata, a paper mâché version of the Gardiner Expressway, to protest what they said is wasteful spending.

“There’s half a billion dollars just being used into putting the Gardiner on stilts in a city where we can’t house people,” said Sean Meagher of Social Planning Toronto.

“We don’t have enough shelters, we have 139,000 kids waiting for recreation programs.”

Meagher was part of a coalition of activists who say the city isn’t spending enough on crucial social services.

“We see it as a step backwards,” said protestor Michael Polanyi. “It’s not really a step backwards in building an inclusive and compassionate city.”

The proposed $12.3 billion dollar budget up for debate includes an investment of $80 million into transit and $250 million for repairs to Toronto Community Housing buildings.

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A two per cent residential property tax increase was also approved as a part of the deliberations Wednesday afternoon.

When other factors like a TTC fare hike and an increase in user fees for city-run programs, Toronto’s budget chair said the average family could be spending about $160 dollars more per year.

“We’ve attempted to do a budget that is balanced its fair and its affordable for the residents,” Gary Crawford said.

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Meanwhile, Tory said the budget would help move the city forward.

“It strikes a balance of the kind of balance that people expect us to strike for the people and on behalf of the people,” said Tory.

The proposed budget also includes funding for 200 new shelter beds but the possible elimination of a dozen frontline positions, the proposed relocation of programs from three school pools and 300 new childcare subsidies. The city will also continue to pay the childcare occupancy grant for another year.

READ MORE: Parents urge Toronto city council not to slash child care grants

While some councillors said they believe the budget is fair and reasonable, critics insist it ignores the needs of low-income families.

“What we have in a budget here is one that’ll make it harder for the residents of Toronto to live,” said Coun. Joe Cressy. “It’s going to make it less fair and less affordable.

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