Torontonians could see a significant property tax hike for the first time in years as city staff presented a proposed budget including a 4.4 per cent total residential increase.
That translates, city staff say, to about $141 more for the average Toronto household, according to the budget documents.
The 4.4 per cent figure is a combined total of a 2.9 per cent property tax increase and a 1.5 per cent increase to the city building fund, which is ear-marked for building transit and housing.
Small businesses, however, will catch a small break amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Their taxes will go down by 15 per cent in 2022, staff say, in order to support the city's economic recovery.
As one slide in the city's presentation clearly states: the "2022 budget remains a COVID-19 budget."
In 2020, the city faced a $1.7-billion financial impact related to the pandemic. That dropped to $1.6 billion in 2021 and now $1.4 billion in 2022, but the city's still seeing reduced revenue (for example, the loss of many transit fares) while also ramping up spending on public health.
The new budget was tabled Thursday morning, kicking off a weeks-long process that's set to be finalized with a council vote in mid-February. Members of the public will be able to speak at meetings on Jan. 24 and 25 or send written responses to the city or their local councillor.
Tory calls budget 'responsible'
Mayor John Tory, who has campaigned and won the mayoralty twice on the promise of holding property tax at the rate of inflation, said the pandemic is still putting a financial burden on the city.
"I know we all hoped we would be in a much better place by 2022 but Omicron has made things more challenging yet again," he said in a statement.
"This is a responsible budget that will ensure Toronto gets through the Omicron surge and ultimately through this pandemic and comes back stronger than ever."
Toronto has lower property taxes than most other municipalities in the GTHA. The city has instead balanced its books thanks to proceeds from the Municipal Land Transfer Tax, which has brought in huge amounts of money due to the booming real estate market.
Frank Clayton, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Urban Research and Development at Ryerson University, said taxing less would likely force the city to lay off workers and reduce services, which city staff say isn't the goal.
"I don't think the tax rate that's being proposed is out of line," Clayton told CBC News.
But some are still criticizing the proposed increase, especially as inflation drives up the cost of living.
"Households all across the city of Toronto are facing these increases when you're filling up the tank, when you're going to buy your groceries. So, you know, it's certainly fine for the city to say that they're facing inflation with certain costs, but so are hard working taxpayers," said Jay Goldberg, the Ontario director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Some Toronto councillors have sought to add taxes in recent years — including a recent bid to reimplement the vehicle registration tax axed under the late Rob Ford — who was mayor from 2010 to 2014 — but council has rejected those proposals.
The city will also be seeking financial support from the provincial and federal governments so it can balance its books, which is required by Ontario law, although it's unclear what money will flow to Toronto before the final vote.