Toronto Mayor Rob Ford spoke out against a looming property tax hike today as officials started work on the city's 2014 budget.
The budget committee is looking at raising residential property taxes by as much as 2.5 per cent, based on the recommendation of city staff, though Ford has said he wants to hold the hike at 1.75 per cent.
"It is so disappointing that in five days, as soon as they reduced my powers, all they're doing is going back to the old tax-and-spend ways and getting back on the gravy train," Ford said of his opponents.
He does not have a seat on the seven-member budget committee though his brother and staunch ally, Coun. Doug Ford, does.
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Mayor Ford, touting his record of economic belt-tightening, earlier expressed disbelief that the city can't find and trim $18 million from its $12 billion budget in order to keep the property tax hike at 1.75 per cent.
"We all know we can find that $18 million," he said.
Ford has not said how he would limit the tax hike; however.
The 2.5 per cent increase includes 0.5 per cent to help cover the cost of the Ford-backed expansion of the Scarborough subway and works out to an average of about $64 per household.
City staff also recommended against any cuts to the municipal land transfer tax, from which Ford wants to cut 10 per cent.
City manager Joe Pennachetti at one point agreed Toronto is closer to financial sustainability, though he said the process began in 2005, five years before Ford took office. Since 2005, 90 per cent of the growth in spending at city hall has gone to police, fire and EMS services, and to the Toronto Transit Commission, according to budget staff.
Many of Ford's powers have been shifted to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly who, in his own opening remarks, called on his colleagues to be "reasonable … rational" and to debate the budget "with a minimum of sloganeering."
Under the new arrangement at city hall, budget chief Frank Di Giorgio reports to Kelly because the budget committee is a subcommittee of the executive, which the deputy mayor now chairs.
Di Giorgio has said keeping the tax hike under 2.5 per cent will be very difficult without making cuts to services. The city is facing reduced transfer payments from the province and the expense of the Ford-backed expansion of the Scarborough subway.
"We're going to have a mountain to climb as a budget committee to meet that particular target," Di Giorgio told CBC News last week.
"The way the numbers are shaping up, it's going to be very difficult for the budget committee to come in at 1.75 per cent," said Di Giorgio. "The mayor, of course, isn't going to be happy."
The budget process runs until council votes on it in late January.