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Toronto has no spending problem, but facing revenue challenges: study

Despite Mayor Rob Ford’s insistence, a new study from a University of Toronto think-tank has found that Toronto doesn’t have a spending problem, but could face tough economic times if it doesn’t find new revenue sources to pay for aging infrastructure.

“Expenditures are roughly the same as they were a decade ago,” it says. “Recent studies suggest there is little room to find further “efficiencies” without reducing services.”

The study, by the Munk school’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG), says the city can’t rely on its relatively low property taxes, or handouts from the provincial and federal governments, if it hopes to “maintain and enhance its quality of life and remain economically competitive.”

“Queen’s Park and Ottawa have a role to play, but the City cannot simply wait for its pleas for funding to be answered.”

“Toronto needs access to new taxes to grow as a world-class city.”

It also noted that while reducing councillors’ office budgets can “have important symbolic value,” they have “virtually no impact on the City’s finances.”

The study titled, Is Toronto Fiscally Healthy?, is the first in a series of pre-election reports by IMFG into some of the key issues facing voters as they head into the October 27 municipal election.

It breaks down the city’s financial condition by probing four areas: spending and services; taxes and revenues; infrastructure; and debt and savings. (See the full report here.)

The report notes that “property taxes in Toronto have been growing at less than the rate of inflation,” and that Torontonians pay low property taxes when compared to other cities in Ontario.

That becomes problematic when the city faces a hefty price-tag for “maintaining existing assets, such as transportation infrastructure” which the study says is projected to grow to nearly $2.5 billion by 2020.

“There is no funding available for big new proposals, such as the much-talked-about transit investments. And there is little certainty about provincial and federal transfers, which represent a third of planned infrastructure spending.”

The study ends by comparing the city’s financial status to a hobbling Maple Leafs blueliner who has seen his better days, but still carries a big contract.

“Toronto’s fiscal condition can be likened to the health of an aging Maple Leafs defenceman: he may be a solid performer on the ice and well cared for by training staff, but he is increasingly expensive and in need of major knee surgery.”