Toronto Mayor Rob Ford hailed his budget as a “remarkable accomplishment” Wednesday, despite the fact city council added $12-million in new spending.
“They are like piranha,” the mayor said of councillors who wanted to add more spending. “You are going to get bitten a few times, but you know what, you are in there and they could have been a lot worse. You know what, we got away unscathed.”
Mayor Ford himself backed a compromise to fund 63 new firefighter jobs, giving his support to $3.1-million in additional money for the fire service after tense negotiations.
Members of the city’s firefighters association packed the council chamber during the two-day meeting, part of the union’s efforts to gain added funding and stop the planned elimination of 101 vacant positions and the removal of five trucks. The new funding also will prevent the closing of one station.
Taken with the changes made last week by the mayor’s executive committee, the fire service will now receive $6.1-million in new money this year.
Last week’s money allowed for the hiring of 20 firefighters and 15 fire prevention officers.
The Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association expressed satisfaction with the move.
"I'm happy in regards to the way it went,” said Ed Kennedy, the association’s president. “I'm glad the mayor and the councillors supported these amendments. It wasn't everything. There's still positions that we need to discuss. But it did keep these five fire trucks in service in the city of Toronto. It kept Runnymede station open, which is important.”
Of the $12-million in new spending, city manager Joe Pennachetti said $7-million is from reserves, and $5-million from an interest investment account. Among the new spending is $3.8-million in childcare subsidies, $3-million for a new housing fund, $1.16-million for student nutrition programs, and $250,000 for the city’s tree foundation.
Mayor Ford called the additions “small compromises” on a historic day at city hall.
“Even the hardcore, left wing tax-and-spend councillors have learned not to spend the surplus,” the mayor said. “When have you ever heard about that happening at city hall?”
Mike Del Grande, the budget chief, was conspicuously absent from the mayor’s news conference after the vote. When asked about his absence, Mr. Del Grande pointed to Tuesday, when the mayor broke ranks with his executive committee and endorsed a far-fetched and unsuccessful attempt to freeze property tax rates.
“I just didn’t have my heart in it,” Mr. Del Grande said. “It’s kind of hard and I don’t think the mayor gets it when he votes for zero per cent. I thought it was a mistake. I don’t think he understands that. I don’t think he has the capacity to understand that. I don’t think he understands when you say you support the budget and tell everybody to support the budget, you don’t do something like that.”
Mr. Del Grande said he would consider his future as budget chief.
“My feeling at this point is to allow the mayor to have his day of sunshine and for me to go home early and watch a movie,” he said.
Councillor Joe Mihevc, who spearheaded efforts for the student nutritional programs, said the additions made it a “more human budget, as well as a fiscally responsible budget.”
He added: "I fought hard, a number of us fought very hard for the student nutrition program, that's now in the budget. That's going to provide one million meals, breakfast, to hungry children in our city. That can't but be something joyous for parents, and really for all of us. We're going to see better student results and testing. We're going to see less misconduct. We're going to see lower absenteeism in our school system."