Tough choices need to be made12/13/19 12:11 PM
The following is a column by TTC Commissioner Brad Bradford, which originally appeared in the Toronto Sun (online December 10, 2019).
By Brad Bradford
The only constant in Toronto is change.
If we’re going to take control and shape that change, we have to make tough decisions about our financial future.
Last week (December 4), Mayor John Tory proposed an increase to the City Building Levy in an effort to raise the capital needed for mission critical infrastructure.
I know this decision wasn’t taken lightly, but it’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to build up our city, keep up with growth, and ensure Toronto keeps moving.
In the last decade, our population grew by over 230,000 people – 70,000 arrived in the last year alone.
That growth is a gift. It’s a bellwether of the hope and promise that Toronto offers to Canadians and newcomers alike.
But our success also comes with challenges. Housing has become less affordable. The median detached house in October 2009 sold for $440,000. In October 2019 it was $751,000.
A 70-per-cent increase in 10 years. We’re projecting an increase of 86 million riders on the TTC this year compared to 2009. Costs continue to escalate and we’re challenged to maintain service levels without considerable new investment.
If we’re going to get to work on time and create opportunities for our friends and loved ones to stay in our communities instead of being forced out of the city, there is a cost and we all need to contribute.
As Vice-Chair of Toronto’s Budget Committee, I have a hard time asking Torontonians to pay more for the work we’re already doing. I firmly believe that any tax increase needs to be met with tangible investments in the infrastructure and services our city needs to grow.
It’s also why we work non-stop to find efficiencies in the City’s operating budget – we have found $891 million in efficiencies and budget reductions in the last five years alone.
Those savings are important and we must never stop looking for them and implementing them, but it won’t be enough to get us the multi-billion-dollar investment to create the Toronto of the future.
Extending the City Building Levy isn’t about inflating government costs or out-of-control spending.
It is about paying for the real things that Toronto needs: new subway trains for Line 1 and Line 2, new buses, installing an upgraded and more reliable signal system on Line 2, and building 40,000 new affordable housing units in the next 12 years.
Because the City Building Levy is dedicated all residents can rest assured this money is being collected for only the designated purpose: drastically improving our existing transit system and building more affordable housing across the city.
As a City Councillor, I’m talking to residents every day and I hear their frustration with transit and with the rising cost of housing.
Under the mayor and the leadership of many of my council colleagues, we’ve taken stock of our city’s needs over the last few years and put in place the plans that will get us to Toronto 2.0.
We’re at an important moment with the plans we recently put in place or are about to pass.
This month Council will be voting on a once-in-a-generation housing plan supporting 340,000 Toronto households with affordability. The TTC will be adopting a service plan with smart, cost-effective solutions like priority bus transit for our five busiest corridors and the quarter-million people who ride those routes every day.
Dozens of other critical plans have been put in place in the months prior: Vision Zero 2.0, TransformTO, Housing Now, and the Biodiversity Strategy to name a few.
People want truth, transparency, and accountability in government. And the truth is if we want to address the challenges facing us today, we need to make more investments, not less.
As one of the youngest members of City Council – with the privilege of representing nearly 120,000 residents in North America’s fourth largest city – I’m here to make this a generational conversation. Deferring action and investment places the burden on future generations.
Decades of downloads from previous governments saddled municipalities with nearly insurmountable challenges. Our perseverance and plans to make our city great are only limited by the tools at our disposal.
Toronto needs improved results now and I will be working hard with my Council colleagues to get housing built and transit expanded with the resources entrusted to us by Torontonians. It’s time for all of us to step up.
Brad Bradford is the Councillor for Ward 19 Beaches-East York.
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