During this year’s final Council meeting on December 14, we debated and voted on the Budget Direction for the 2023 budget. This is not the same as voting on the actual budget for 2023, which will take place in March. The budget direction is where Council gives “direction” to the city’s departmental staff to draft their proposed budget for the year. But the parameters provided to staff through this direction, in many ways, determine the budget’s ultimate outcome.
The most controversial element of the 2023 budget direction was the Mayor’s recommendation to cap the property tax increase at 2.5%. This rate of increase was a promise that Mayor Sutcliffe made during the campaign, out of concern for the affordability crisis that so many residents are facing.
Mayor Sutcliffe’s budget direction to cap the property tax increase at 2.5% passed with the majority of votes at Council, but I was one of 8 councillors who voted against the budget direction.
I did not vote in this manner out of disregard for the financial challenges faced by residents, nor did I cast my vote lightly. Rather, I am concerned about our City’s inability to provide adequate services and programs, let alone address our significant infrastructure concerns, if we limit our revenues in this manner. These are difficult times financially for residents, but they’re also difficult times for the bottom line of our city. I’m concerned that a cap of a 2.5% property tax increase will further hinder our city’s ability to do what it needs to do.
Even with the annual increases of 3% over the past four years under Mayor Jim Watson, our city's core infrastructure remains in dire shape, and many of our essential services are underperforming. What I heard from residents during the campaign was: fix our roads & sewers, fix transit, build more affordable housing, hire more By-Law officers, take better care of our city's most vulnerable. It's hard to accomplish these goals without significant investment.
Based on the city's calculations, for a house assessed at $415,000, a 2.5% tax increase would represent an additional $104 to the owner. A 3% tax increase - which is the increase we've had since 2018 – would represent $135 more per year to the owner. In other words, the difference between the 2.5% cap and the 3% cap we’d grown accustomed to was about $30. I know that, for many, $30 is significant when every dollar counts. But for those who need our city's services the most, or to improve our underfunded infrastructure, that $30 times 330,000 taxpayers is $10M in revenue that could’ve gone a long way.
No matter the ultimate outcome of the 2023 budget that Council will vote on in March, I will be sure to work with our Mayor, my fellow Councillors, and our hard-working staff to make the most effective and responsible use of our available resources. But I will also continue to press for a fulsome discussion with residents and City Council about the ongoing need for our city to invest properly in our future.