Toronto mayor Rob Ford is vowing to clean up the city's financial "mess" in less than a year despite a burgeoning budget shortfall.
The promise from the cost-conscious mayor was made Friday in a wide-ranging interview on radio station AM640. His comments come at the end of a week that saw reports of possible cuts to police, fire services, daycare spaces and park maintenance.
Toronto is facing a projected budget shortfall of $774 million. The mayor ran on a platform of eliminating the so-called "gravy" from city hall in last fall's election.
"We're not going to have this mess to deal with next year, I guarantee it," Ford said during Friday's interview.
However, he acknowledged that the process would not be pleasant for Torontonians in the short-term as no stone will be left unturned in his effort to find savings.
"It's going to be short-term pain for long-term gain," said Ford. "It's going to cost us a little bit now, but it will save us millions and millions of dollars in the long run," he said. "We inherited this mess …. We're trying to clean up a mess that was left behind."
Earlier this week, Ford's administration said it planned to offer about 17,000 city workers a buyout package.
Union, non-union and management employees are all being offered buyouts of up to six months salary. Police, transit and library workers are not included.
Ford said the cuts were regrettable but nonetheless needed.
'We have to start finding efficiencies'
"The last thing we want to do is lay off … but when [labour] makes up 80 per cent of your budget, there's a lot of gravy there, there's a lot of people," said Ford. "Unfortunately, it's just not enough work to go around and we have to start finding efficiencies," he said.
"In business, the first thing you look at is the labour and your labour should be making up, you know, a maximum 20 per cent … we're at 80 per cent. It's just unheard of."
Despite the budget crunch, Ford promised that residents would not be faced with a huge tax increase, and instead insisted it would be no higher than 3 per cent.
"I'm not going to turn around and hit the taxpayers with a huge property tax increase. That's just not going to happen under a Ford administration," he said.
Land transfer tax
Ford promised to eliminate the land transfer tax during his election campaign and hoped to get rid of it by the end of this year, but his administration has since realized the city can't afford to get rid of the controversial tax anytime soon. The tax brought $278 million into city coffers last year.
Instead, he said it will be phased out in quarterly increments by 2014.
City Hall has commissioned an independent auditor to make suggestions about how to pare down the massive debt as well.
The city released a number of the auditor's suggestions this week. They included eliminating up to 2,000 subsidized daycare spaces, eliminating fluoride from the city's drinking water and reviewing its policy on grass cutting in parks.
Ford supports the idea of jettisoning the subsidized daycare spots which he said could be run for less money by private operators.
"It only makes sense to get rid of them," he said. "It's costing us an arm and a leg."
More suggestions are expected from KPMG next week before the city's committees begin to debate the reports.