Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was in full campaign mode Wednesday, pledging to save the city $50-million "easy," and railing against a proposed property-tax hike – even as the budget committee compromised with a smaller increase than originally recommended.
The city's budget committee wrapped up its final 2014 budget meeting Wednesday, voting to approve a 2.25-per-cent property-tax increase. The increase is lower than the 2.5 per cent proposed by city staff. But for the mayor, who is in favour of holding a tax hike at 1.75 per cent, this wasn't enough.
"He knows and I know and everyone knows we can get down to one and three-quarters," Mr. Ford said, referring to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and other members of council who favour the 2.25-per-cent increase. "This is what the people want."
The mayor added that, once the budget is passed at executive committee and presented to council at the end of this month, he plans on bringing forward a list of potential savings that could see the city save $50-million. Mr. Ford said it would be "easy"to save the city that money, but declined to say what services might have to be cut.
He hinted, however, at privatizing services such as tree-planting and garbage collection east of Yonge Street. "If you contract some stuff out, if you see that as a service cut – I don't see that as a service cut. I see that as better service if the private sector is delivering instead of the government delivering them."
Late last year, many of Mr. Ford's powers were transferred to the deputy mayor, and the two have butted heads over the city's response to a recent ice storm. Both Mr. Kelly and the mayor denied that politics are at play in their disagreement over taxes.
"This is not a competition," Mr. Kelly said. "This is my desire to create a budget that is well-rounded, balanced, that's a win-win budget fiscally and socially." He added that he's reaching out to members of council to "make sure that this budget has the widest support possible."
Others, too, called Mr. Ford's position on the property tax "not achievable."
Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, who first brought forth the 2.25-per-cent motion, said that the city is expecting to receive more revenue from the land-transfer tax than currently budgeted for, part of which could be used to cover the $6-million cost of a 2.25-per-cent increase instead of 2.5 per cent. With Mr. Ford's numbers, she said, "unless you're going to have major cuts, that is not achievable."
But Councillor Doug Ford, who is running his brother's re-election campaign, claimed that 1.75 is still possible. "There's still, in my opinion, a couple hundred million dollars in savings if they really want to dig down and find the savings," he said. He declined to say what those savings might include.
Another issue that Doug Ford and the mayor have focused on recently – the land-transfer tax – was also discussed by the budget committee Wednesday. The mayor wants to reduce the tax by at least five per cent. The committee decided to leave the tax alone.
Wednesday's final budget meeting – which saw the approval of a wide range of city issues, including restored funding to the High Park Zoo and the standardization of library hours – was heated at times.
At one point, Councillor Janet Davis was asked to apologize after she used "inappropriate language" in speaking with Doug Ford.
"I shouldn't have said what I said," Ms. Davis said afterward. Her temper flared after she said the councillor spoke disparagingly of an art program she cares about. "I reacted to it. I shouldn't have."