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Toronto budget: Tory says city can't take 'easy way out'

Several councillors speak out against plan to borrow from future capital projects
March 10, 2015

Mayor John Tory saw the start of the first budget debate of his tenure on Tuesday, though it appears that the budget is unlikely to change much on the floor of council despite opposition from some councillors.

The city's nearly $10-billion, tax-supported operating budget has already been through a period of consultations and been approved by the budget committee. Now it is up to council to debate and approve it in its final form.

During Tuesday's special council meeting, Tory told his fellow council members that the public is expecting he and his colleagues to keep a lid on property taxes.

"We can't take the easy way out, it's not reality," Tory said.

"The people sent us here with a clear mandate on property taxes to limit increases to at or below the rate of inflation. That’s exactly what we're doing, it’s exactly what we said we would do and it's the right thing to do."

Several councillors moved motions on Tuesday that sought to amend the projected property tax hike. Coun. Gord Perks advocated for a larger tax hike, while Coun. Rob Ford wanted to trim it - the motions from both councillors were defeated.

Late Tuesday afternoon, it appeared the final rate, with the Scarborough subway levy included, would be approximately 3.2 per cent.

Tory's budget chief, Coun. Gary Crawford, was asked earlier in the day about how long it would be possible to hold taxes at the rate of inflation.

"We have achieved it this year," said Crawford, adding that the same "discipline" would be applied to the budget process next year.

The budget plans for millions in new spending, the bulk of which will bolster some TTC bus routes.

At the same time, the city is taking the unprecedented step of borrowing money from future capital projects to plug a hole in the operating budget.

That's why Perks had pushed for a tax increase that would have seen people pay about $5 more each month. It was a proposal designed to have the city avoid that same borrowing.

"In our best years, we’ve found about $200 million worth of savings. Over the next two years, the mayor’s proposed financial path assumes about $2 billion worth of savings," Perks said.

Debate on the budget will continue on Wednesday.

'A bureaucratic budget'

Tuesday marked Tory's 100th day in office.

Tory said he's proud of what he’s been able to do so far, including cracking down on illegal rush-hour parking and by expanding the shelter system during extreme cold weather alerts this winter.

Three months into his new job, Tory said he’s very proud to be serving as the city's mayor.

"It's a city that I've spent my entire life in and to have the chance to lead the city government and be part of it was a privilege and is an honour," Tory said.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti said it was too soon to say how Tory's term as mayor was going.

And it is the councillor's opinion that the budget that has been put together is one that has been heavily influenced by the staff at city hall.

"It's not a mayor-driven, kind of budget that’s in front of us, I think it's a bureaucratic budget," Mammoliti said Tuesday.

He admitted that things have changed at city hall from a year ago, when Ford was sitting in the mayor's chair.

"A soap opera unfolded last term and now it's like watching, you know, a golf game. It's not the most exciting thing in the world in council," said Mammoliti.

Ford had sought re-election as mayor, but withdrew from the mayoral race after being diagnosed with cancer.

He put his name on the ballot in Ward 2, where he was elected as councillor.

That's why he and Tory have ended up on council together, even though both ran for mayor in the same election.