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Toronto deputy manager John Livey retires

Toronto deputy manager John Livey will be retiring from public service on April 4, 2018.

Livey was responsible for corporate oversight and administrative governance. He has overseen collaborative city-wide initiatives and projects including city planning, transportation, engineering, and construction.

“John is known as a principled leader with a commitment to innovation and excellence,” said City Manager Peter Wallace in a statement. “He has always faced obstacles and challenges head on, with a drive to deliver the best possible results for the residents of Toronto. His determination and hard work will certainly be missed.”

Some of Livey’s notable achievements, according to the City of Toronto, is his role in the Port Lands development and implementation plan, the transit file including Smart Track, Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension, Relief Line, and Scarborough Transit Network. Livey was also responsible for the city’s emergency response during the 2013 ice storm.

He was also a strong supporter of the new motherlode transit network and Rail Deck Park, two initiatives that strived to connect neighbourhoods and regions to the downtown core.

“It has been an honour to work for the City of Toronto,” said Livey. “I would like to thank my many staff teams, senior management colleagues, Mayor Tory and the Members of Council with whom I have had the privilege to work. I know that City staff will continue to advance city-building initiatives through innovation and a commitment to continuous improvement.”

Livey joined the City of Toronto in 2011 after serving as Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Markham. He also worked with the Region of York.

The city will begin the hiring process in early 2018.

City council votes to support tolls

“You rarely have to ask permission to do the right thing.”

This quote comes from an open letter released Tuesday morning, with the signature of five different Canadian mayors attached to it. The letter calls for more municipal power to create city revenue, so that municipal leaders can match infrastructure funding provided by the provincial and federal governments.

In essence, Canada’s biggest cities, including Toronto, were asking for the power to do their part to expand and grow.

This sentiment was much needed prior to the city council meeting Tuesday, where councillors discussed how they would be paying for city services for the foreseeable future.

After much debate, city council approved staff recommendations by staff to generate revenue by using various taxes and tolls. The implementation of tolls is a brave new step for the city – proof that politicians understand the need to create revenue and alleviate congestion on city roads.

Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed the use of tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express over a month ago, and since then it has received a mostly positive response. The money would be directly funnelled into maintaining and funding transit-related projects, which works to both alleviate congestion on roadways and expand Toronto’s transit network.

City council ultimately voted in support of the mayor’s proposal. Nine councillors opposed the motion.

These tolls, which could be implemented as early as 2020, would affectively alleviate congestion, unlock gridlock, and help pay for the much-needed transit network being built throughout Toronto. A win-win scenario.

Council also agreed to look into a 0.5 per cent levy on property taxes, a four per cent tax on hotels, up to a 10 per cent tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb, and harmonizing and/or increasing land transfer taxes. The city will also be asking the province for a share of the harmonized sales tax.

The debate on tolls will continue in the new year, when city staff will present options for implementation, including cost.

City Manager Peter Wallace made it clear in his presentation on the city budget that council had to approve of some of the proposed revenue tools — if they didn’t, they should be prepared to provide solutions to the $33 billion in unfunded projects the city is undergoing.

“I think it comes down to what level of public service does city council want to endorse,” Wallace said bluntly. He also made it clear that by voting to take tolls to the next level, council can rest assured that city staff will proved thoughtfully.

Other councillors were not so thoughtful. Many ignored the fact that people pay for the use of public transportation and that user fees are popularly used in large cities. However, at the end of the day, even the wary councillors understood the need to make a firm decision or risk being left with a large revenue gap to fill.

And to that brave majority, Toronto thanks you.

Executive Committee gets a toll awakening

Toronto’s city councillors got a rude awakening at Thursday’s lengthy Executive Committee meeting. City staff gave a presentation on revenue tolls, saying that it is necessary that council approve at least a few of their reforms — increase property taxes, sales taxes, vehicle tax, or user fees like tolls and public transportation fares. If they didn’t, well, they would have to find more cuts.

Toronto currently has $33 billion worth of unfunded projects. As city manager Peter Wallace said during his presentation, if executive council or city council decides not to approve the use of tolls or increase property taxes, then they better be ready to propose reductions in the capital spending.

“Toronto, a $12 billion enterprise, does require a long term, vigorous, and consistent framework,” he said. “Cutting costs on an annual basis doesn’t work long-term. Toronto needs a long-term investment and revenue strategy.”

Wallace spoke candidly about the need to choose, and implement, a revenue plan. If city council is not willing to increase taxes, then tolls are the only option.

Mayor John Tory announced last week that he would be supporting the implementation of tolls as a source of revenue for infrastructure and transit-related projects. His proposal: a $2 flat-rate toll on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. With this toll, the city would accumulate approximately $166 million in extra revenue. If the rate were to increase to $3.90, comparable to the cost of a transit fare, the city would make $272 million.

“If you want to live in a city in five or 10 years that is so much worse for congestion, then we shouldn’t have this discussion,” Tory said at a press conference prior to the vote. “But I’m not prepared to be that kind of mayor and when most people think about it, they know we need to build the transit and they know it isn’t free.”

“If anyone is opposed to road tolls, they have an obligation to tell us what they would do instead.”

There seemed to be a lot of differing opinions, but at the end of the day, the executive council saw the light and voted to send the toll proposal to city council for further consideration. The fees/cost of toll implementation will be decided at that point. Executive Committee also voted to ask the province for permission to impose a hotel and short-term accommodation rental tax and an alcohol tax. Council is still adamant not to increase property taxes by more than half a percent.

Tolling Toronto’s major roadways has a lot of benefits, and as was proven by the Mainstreet Research poll conducted last week, most of Toronto’s residents are comfortable paying a fee to use the DVP and Gardiner. The hope is that tolls will not only collect the much-needed revenue to build more transit, but it will also alleviate congestion and gridlock by encouraging car pooling and transit usage.

At the same time, the revenue tool discussion is always a hard one to have. An election is forthcoming, and no city councillor, not to mention mayoral candidate, wants to be the person to say “hey, we are raising taxes and we are making you pay to drive to work.” Toronto’s current mayor seems to have put the politics of re-election aside and was brave enough to push forward a proposal that may not be all that popular among his fellow councillors. And for that, Women’s Post commends him.

All I can say is that I hope the rest of council realizes that Toronto is in a pickle. The city needs money and it needs to build transit and infrastructure. The reality is that you can’t do one without the other.

The gaping hole in Toronto’s budget

 

Change is in the air, sunny ways and sunnier days are coming to Toronto. Taking us out of the freeze that has limited our ability to grow. And this isn’t just because the Federal liberal government has announced infrastructure funding – although it helps –  there is a noticeable difference in the culture at city hall. Gone are the plotting whispers in the cafe, gone are the unanswered phone calls, and almost all of the arrogant attitudes and elitism that used to elevate public servants high above the people they worked for.  

Instead the city is starting to feel like a well run machine, and although it is in desperate need of funding for housing, transit and other services, city manager Peter Wallace is bringing the passion back to city hall. But for all his hard work and commitment he will have his hands tied if council doesn’t come up with a way of funding the infrastructure and services they have voted to move forward on.

With a $2.1 Billion backlog in affordable housing repairs and the need to raise over $10 Billion for transit improvements and infrastructure like the Relief Line, and the Scarborough subway and LRT extension, the city is stuck in a cycle of denial that started decades ago. Desperate for re-election politicians refused to deal with the lack of funding choosing instead to ignore the need to build transit and social housing. They allowed gridlock to grow and housing to fall into a such a state of disrepair that it will take decades to rebuild.

Today Toronto is at a crucial point in our history, our success as a city depends on this current council stepping up to the responsibilities we elected them to handle. Mayor Tory has stated in the past that he believes a basket of revenue tools is needed. Without his strong leadership and commitment to creating a viable revenue stream to fund the gaping hole in our city budget, there is little chance that the self interest of councillors wanting re-election won’t once again ignore the issue of funding the promises they have made.

Lately in the darker corners of City Hall a few councilors are whispering that perhaps the city should freeze development, or at least put a pause on it.  This blatant attempt to gain favor with older neighbourhood voters, shows their utter lack of awareness on the dependence our city has on property taxes and the desperate need to grow our tax base through development. Instead of trying to find ways to fund the services and infrastructure these councilors are more interested in finding ways to make voters re-elect them.

Mayor Tory is up against a huge challenge, he will need to get the self-serving councilors to support a revenue tool big enough to allow the city to pay for the infrastructure and services they have all promised Toronto voters. If he isn’t able to get the support of council on this issue, he risks being just one of a long line of Mayor’s who have added to the cities growing debt unable to lead council to deal with the growing debt that will impact our children and grandchildren.

Detroit refused to create revenue tools. Will Toronto follow in their footsteps?
Detroit refused to create revenue tools. Will Toronto follow in their footsteps?

Organizations across the region have called for creating revenue tools. The Board of Trade supports a basket of revenue tools that include a parking surcharge, a regional sales tax and tolls.  The Chamber of Commerce has suggested a fuel tax and tolls.  Just about every organization that has looked at the economic impact of gridlock have called on council to implement tolls. Given that Toronto owns and pays to maintain both the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and is now looking at rebuilding the Gardiner at a pricetag of over $2Billion now is the time to put tolls on these highways.

The city of Toronto has a critical choice to make.  Our council can continue refuse to create a revenue stream like tolls but this will push the entire cost of funding our infrastructure repairs onto Toronto property tax payers. And this would also require huge cuts to services we now take for granted – everything from snow clearing, to garbage collection, libraries, and recreation centres would be on the chopping block.  Or council can finally move forward on revenue tools, and put tolls on the Gardiner and DVP dedicated to the $2Billion needed to rebuild the Gardiner and then to building the relief subway line.

Mayor Tory will need help convincing his council that the time has come for each of them to do what is best for the city. Write your councillor today and tell them that you want them to support tolls or another revenue stream that will allow our city to tackle the growing infrastructure deficit. You can find their email address here: