Mayor Rob Ford is putting to rest any thoughts that his cost-cutting days are done, vowing to keep finding "efficiencies" at city hall so he can phase out the land transfer tax and keep a lid on property taxes.
In a campaign-style address to a Toronto Real Estate Board gathering Friday, Mr. Ford renewed his election pledge to get rid of the "terrible" land transfer tax and guaranteed that property taxes would increase no more than 1.75 per cent next year. To do that, he urged the 100 or so members of his audience to help him by lobbying councillors to continue to cut costs.
"Folks, you must get in the councillors' faces," Mr. Ford said. "As we succeed in reducing costs, we can begin to phase out that terrible land transfer tax, which I never supported and I am adamant to get rid of. I'd like to start doing that before this council term is up."
The remarks come the same week as the city announced it expects to finish the year with a $90-million surplus – created thanks to savings in the city's wage bill and higher-than-expected revenue from the land transfer tax.
The tax is expected to bring in about $330-million this year, $44-million more than forecast. Mr. Ford told reporters after his address that he'd like to start reducing the tax with a 25-per-cent cut, although he said the level is yet to be set. Councillor Mike Del Grande, the chair of the city's budget committee, has long said the city can't afford to scrap the tax and mused earlier this week about phasing it out in 5-per-cent increments over the next 20 years.
Either way, cutting the tax would require the city to reduce costs or increase property taxes. At current levels, a 25-per-cent cut would reduce the city's revenues by more than $82-million.
Mr. Ford made it clear he thinks there are plenty of savings still to be found at city hall, even after last year's contentious budget debate that saw hundreds of people come to all-night meetings to plead for city services. "There is still a lot of waste down there at city hall and we'll find the waste and root it out and do what people elected me to do, and that's reduce the size and cost of government," the mayor told reporters.
During his remarks, the mayor dismissed many of the individuals who urged council to maintain programs as "professional activists whose jobs depend on city gravy." Mr. Ford then addressed these individuals directly: "To them I say, 'You're upset?' They said they're furious. I say too bad."
The quip raised the ire of one opposition councillor in the crowd. The lunch, to acknowledge the contribution of the real estate industry to community organizations, was not the place to take shots at the very people who work for those groups, Councillor Mike Layton said.
"The intent of today was to thank the Toronto Real Estate Board for their contributions to organizations and charities across the city, not to mock citizen activists that are trying to fight for programs," he said.
Mr. Layton said he would prefer to hear from community members rather than those with "vested interests," such as the real estate board.
The real estate board used the event to release the results of an Ipsos Reid poll it commissioned on the land transfer tax. The poll of more than 1,257 adults was split between residents of Toronto and the surrounding GTA. It found 66 per cent of Toronto residents supported a repeal of the tax.