Even as the fate of the mayor is debated by the court system and an anxious city holds its breath, the 2013 budget process goes forward at City Hall. Opening pressures! Assessment growth! Reduced capital!
What does it all mean? Matt Elliott of Metro, the civic explainer nonpareil, rides to the rescue with a step-by-step walk through of what city staff have presented and the politicians are now debating. For the interested but uninitiated, he breaks down terms like “deficit” and “opening pressure”:
The “opening pressure” is sometimes referred to as “Toronto’s deficit” by people who don’t really get how municipal finance works. In reality, it represents a fairly loose staff estimate of the gap between expected revenues and projected expenses in the next year. Last year, you might remember, staff pegged the opening pressure at $774 million, a figure the Ford administration used to justify everything from potential library closures to the threatened sell-off of animals at city-run farms.
He walks us through the steps along the way to balancing the $10 billion monster, holding our hands along the way:
Property taxes are way more complicated than most people think. Each year, the city decides that they will raise a certain amount of money from property taxes. Then a bunch of math wizards disappear into a windowless office and determine what each individual property owner (and, indirectly, tenant) gets billed.
When the newspaper headlines say that property taxes are going up by 1.95 per cent, what that means is that the city has decided it needs to take in $3.725 billion in property taxes next year, which is 1.95 per cent more than they needed to take in last year. It doesn’t mean, necessarily, that your individual property tax bill will go up by 1.95 per cent.
And takes us right through the dramatic showdown looming in the budget document’s cliffhanger ending:
City Hall has turned to look squarely at Police Chief Bill Blair and demand that he fill in the remaining gap through cuts to his budget request.
Before you start yammering on like you know what you’re talking about when you talk about the city’s budget, go read it. And then you will know what you’re talking about. Which will put you a few steps ahead of some of our elected officials.