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Mayor Rob Ford runs the media gauntlet to get back to his office at City Hall in Toronto on May 31, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Mayor Rob Ford runs the media gauntlet to get back to his office at City Hall in Toronto on May 31, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

$248-million surplus ‘positive proof’ of Ford’s cost-cutting, budget chair says Add to ...

Toronto finished 2012 with a $248-million surplus, and although the city is still facing some significant fiscal constraints, its budget chair says the numbers are rare good news for Mayor Rob Ford.

The figures, released on Tuesday as part of a staff report that will go before the budget committee later this week, come as the mayor tries to turn the page on allegations he was caught on video using crack cocaine. The mayor has said he does not use the drug and no such video exists.

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Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, who took over as budget chair when councillor Mike Del Grande stepped down earlier this year, said in an interview that the mayor will no doubt welcome the staff report.

“In his eyes, it will essentially indicate that there’s positive proof of his focus on finding efficiencies,” he said.

Mr. Ford did not comment on the budget report on Tuesday.

The city’s 2012 surplus for its more than $9-billion budget is thanks in part to higher than expected land transfer taxes, unfilled vacancies and underspending by the Toronto Transit Commission.

Mr. Ford vowed to abolish the land-transfer tax during the 2010 campaign. He has since said he wants to reduce it by 10 per cent as soon as possible, a move that could take more than $30-million out of the city’s coffers.

Mr. Di Giorgio said he will do his best to meet that request, but he cautioned the city does face some increased costs, such as a police labour tab that will go up by at least $27-million.

“It is one of the mayor’s main objectives, so we will try and accomplish that the best we can,” he said of reducing the land-transfer tax. “We do have a lot of pressures going forward.”

Last year, the city collected $344.5-million in land-transfer taxes, about 20 per cent more than forecast. That brought in $56-million more than expected.

Mr. Del Grande, the former budget chair, said “there’s no perfect science” when it comes to forecasting how much the land-transfer tax will raise. He said he believed last year’s total would be higher than what was predicted, but staff pushed for the lower estimate.

“You don’t really want to project more and then be in a problem that you don’t get the numbers because there’s no fallback,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Di Giorgio said the 10 per cent cut would be significant. He said city departments are currently being asked to submit their preliminary budget drafts.

Councillor Gord Perks said Torontonians will feel the effects if the tax is reduced. “You can cut any tax you want as long as you’re prepared to cut the services that go with it,” he said.

At the end of 2012, the city had 45,047 full-time jobs and 4,144 part-time positions. That’s 2,623 jobs short of the work force numbers approved by council. The difference is a result of delays in filling vacant positions and seasonal fluctuations.

Other factors contributing to the surplus included $41-million surplus at the TTC, which includes fuel savings and revenue from increasing ridership; $11.7-million in savings in employment and social services; $8.8-million in savings in transportation services, mostly because of reduced winter maintenance costs; and $7.6-million in savings in parks and recreation.

The city’s rate-supported services, which include water and solid waste, also reported a surplus, ending 2012 with $63-million more than expected.

Under a formula approved by council, 75 per cent of the city’s operating surplus will be used to fund capital projects, and the rest will go to reserves.

The city had a surplus of $292-million in 2011. In 2010, it was $367-million.

Mr. Di Giorgio said he is not concerned the size of the surplus has been trending downward because it could just indicate the city is getting better with its forecasts.

Mr. Perks said there was an element of luck to some of the projections.

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