John Tory capped off 100 days in office with his first big win as mayor, getting broad support from council for his campaign pledge to hold taxes in line with the rate of inflation.
Council voted 36 to 8 to raise residential taxes by 2.75 per cent for this year including the special 0.5-per-cent levy for the Scarborough subway. When the rate is adjusted to reduce the burden on commercial properties, the average Toronto homeowner will pay $2,679 in municipal taxes, an increase of $83.19 or 3.2 per cent.
The day began with a news conference by Mr. Tory in which he proclaimed the job of mayor was "the most fun you could have with your clothes on."
Characterizing his time in office as "an administration of common sense," Mr. Tory alluded to the turbulent term of his predecessor. "The simplest thing I set out to do 100 days ago, may as well have been the most important thing … to bring back a sense of stability and respect to city hall," he said.
Mr. Tory came to office promising a big-tent approach to governing and built wide support for his spending plan, which includes service increases for the TTC, expanded shelter services and other poverty-reduction measures.
He managed to silence most critics and get backing for his unorthodox plan to borrow money from the city's capital reserves in order to balance the books this year. The last-minute move was used to plug an $86-million hole in the city's operating budget created when Mr. Tory failed in his efforts to get the province to reinstate funding cut during the last term of council.
Councillor Gord Perks, who tried but failed to get support for raising taxes an extra 2.4 per cent to avoid the need to borrow, called the mayor's move a "multimillion-dollar gamble."
"He chose to ignore the fact that we have a cost that we didn't used to have in our budget," he said. "It's like borrowing from your RRSP to pay for your mortgage… I'm saying if we make an increase now, we prevent a much bigger increase in the future."
Budget chair Gary Crawford dismissed warnings that the 2016 budget process will be an even more challenging one.
"We have this conversation every year with these huge challenges – the sky is falling," he told reporters. "But you know what? During the process, we solve it, we figure it, we manage it. And in fact, next year, the goal will be to bring in an affordable tax rate at or below inflation. We achieved it this year."
Others, such as Councillor Shelley Carroll – a member of the budget committee – said the city needs to look at other ways of raising revenue.
"If we achieve a population of three million and we still are reliant upon property tax for over 40 per cent of our operating budget, we are going to be the only city in the world that's surviving that way," she said.
On the other side of the debate, former mayor Rob Ford, now a city councillor, proposed a lower tax increase, a move that got the support of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti.
The day also included a Hail Mary attempt by Councillor Anthony Perruzza to cancel the special levy to pay for the city's portion of the Scarborough subway – now in its second year. The effort was short-lived with the motion ruled out of order by Speaker Frances Nunziata.
By the afternoon, Mr. Ford signalled his intention to introduce 30 separate motions to reduce costs, everything from taking money out of the budget for the mayor's office and standardizing library hours to cutting the "urban park ranger" program.
Those motions will be up for discussion when council turns its attention to the details of the city's operating budget when it continues its meeting Wednesday.
Also Tuesday, council passed a motion to pay the first of five instalments of a $95-million funding request from Metrolinx to help cover costs of upgrades to the line that will be used by the new airport express train, and to continue negotiations with the provincial transit agency. Councillor James Pasternak suggested Toronto's contribution be recognized by adding the city logo to trains and stations.