The City of Toronto now expects to have a 2012 surplus of $232 million, almost double an earlier projection of $115 million.
About $105 million of the windfall had already been earmarked for repairs to the Gardiner Expressway. The bigger surplus allows the city to increase funding for arts and culture and to boost financial reserves.
The surplus comes about as a result of lower than expected costs and higher than expected revenues. In particular, the Municipal Land Transfer Tax yielded $340 million in 2012 — $52 million higher than initial estimates.
Under council policy, 75 per cent of any year’s surplus is to be allocated to capital costs such as reducing repair backlogs.
City finance staff recommend that $22.5 million go to arts and culture and $14.2 million to cover the 1.5 per cent 2013 wage hike for unionized workers.
As well, the finance department says $29.5 million is needed to increase reserves set up to cover increasing costs in welfare, social housing, extreme weather damage, police sick leave, severance for councillors’ staff and Exhibition Place.
Arts community could get more city money
After years of lobbying, Toronto’s arts and culture community is finally getting a sizeable funding boost from city council.
Given that the 2012 surplus is expected to be $232 million, city finance staff say there is room to allocate $2.5 million extra to arts and culture in 2013 and $5 million in each of the next four years.
Council will make the final decision later this month when it passes the city’s $9.4 billion operating budget for 2013.
Arts groups have been advocating for increased funding for years, particularly since 2009 when the city introduced a new billboard tax that brings in about $10 million annually.
“It’s been a ride,” said Devon Ostrom, of beautifulcity.ca, an arts lobby group. “It’s great. It’s exactly what we were pushing for.”
Ostrom said the funding boost will allow the Toronto Arts Council, which distributes city grants, will help young artists and stimulate arts and cultural activity in underserved suburbs.
“We’ve been flatlined. There’s very little for young artists when there’s zero growth or contraction in funding and yet the city keeps growing. It means there’s not enough opportunity for young people to really prosper.”
“It means the TAC will be able to properly serve arts communities outside of the downtown.”