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Rob Ford vows to freeze Toronto property taxes next year

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford talks to the media during a press conference on his first day as a mayor

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's new mayor is vowing to freeze property taxes next year.

"I've asked staff to come back with a zero-based budget," Rob Ford said at his first news conference since taking office Wednesday. "Property taxes will not go up this year."

The property-tax freeze is a departure from Mr. Ford's election campaign, when he said it would be "impossible" to hold the line on taxes. He promised to keep tax increases to the equivalent of the rate of inflation.

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"Toronto taxpayers do not want a larger budget and more spending," he said Wednesday. "There will be no tax increases next year. There will be no major service cuts next year."

The new pledge was part of an ambitious first day on the job for Mr. Ford, who also declared the "war on the car" over.

He vowed to make it the "first task" of the new Toronto Transit Commission to kill an $8.15-billion light-rail transit network paid for largely by Queen's Park.

Mr. Ford's other day-one promises include:

-Moving to ban strikes at the TTC. The mayor promised to put a resolution urging the province to make the TTC an essential service on the agenda of the new council's first business meeting Dec. 16.

-Abolishing the $60 vehicle-registration tax, also at the Dec. 16 meeting. He pledged for the first time Wednesday to eliminate the tax effective Jan. 1, something the province has already agreed to. (The province collects the tax and remits it to the city.) However, Mr. Ford said the move wouldn't be retroactive.

-Establishing a task-force of the executive committee to improve customer service. "Customer service will be job one. Every phone call, every e-mail will be responded to. All it takes is leadership."

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-Making the municipal government more open and accountable, an effort that will be led by Councillor Paul Ainslie, the chair of the government management committee.

"We will have an ambitious agenda and I expect to hit the ground running at our first council meeting this month," Mr. Ford said.

The mayor did not say where he intends to find the money to replace the vehicle-registration tax, which brings in between $40-million and $50-million per year, or how he would replace the revenue he would forego by freezing property taxes.

Toronto last froze property taxes in 2000, the third-year of zero-per-cent increases under the mega-city's first mayor, Mel Lastman.

Since then, taxes have gone up an average of between 3 per cent and 4 per cent per year.

Forgoing a 3-per-cent increase to residential taxes and a 1-per-cent increase to non-residential taxes would cost about $64.2-million, based on the current assessment base.

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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