Hundreds of Toronto taxpayers are set to show up at City Hall, part of a marathon meeting on budget cuts that is expected to stretch into the wee hours of the morning and run for at least an extra day.
The city's executive committee, chaired by Mayor Rob Ford and filled with his supporters on council, sits down Thursday morning to review a long list of proposed cuts for the city's agencies, boards and commissions - everything from cancelling TTC night buses to pulling funding for AIDS prevention programs and eliminating school crossing guards.
Closing some of the city's 98 library branches also is on the list - an option that faces huge public opposition and has generated some 20,000 letters to the mayor's office.
Mr. Ford has invited everyone to come to the meeting, promising to give them five minutes to have their say. Committee members could elect to reduce that time, but with more than 280 speakers registered by Wednesday afternoon, councillors and staff are preparing for a sleepover.
"I'm bringing my pyjamas and my pillow," said Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, part of the mayor's inner circle.
City staff can't recall another meeting that has attracted as much interest from the public.
Thursday's meeting will be a first because the mayor will be at centre stage, quarterbacking the discussion. Until now, Mr. Ford has not played a public role in the core service review, leaving budget chief Mike Del Grande to handle the news conference when the first section of the report landed and the chairs of various committees to comment on specific proposals.
It remains unclear if the mayor will tip his hand during the meeting on the kind of cuts he will support. "I think it is premature to shut the door on anything," said Adrienne Batra, a spokeswoman in his office,. "I think what the mayor is prepared to do right now is hear what the members of the executive have to say."
It is possible, she said, that the committee will make recommendations on specific measures, or take some off the table.
The executive session follows two weeks of standing-committee meetings and hours of remarks from the public, all focused on more than 400 pages of findings from a KPMG study of 155 city services. The study is part of the mayor's pledge to find the '"gravy" at city hall, and close an estimated $774-million funding gap in next year's budget. A review of service fees and efficiency studies also are taking place.
After this week's meeting, the same committee will face a second mammoth session in September, when it meets to consider all the recommendations sent to it from the city's standing committees. That meeting, on Sept. 19, will face an equally long list of controversial cost-cutting options including eliminating subsidies for 2,000 daycare spaces and selling nursing homes.
The full range of savings measures will be debated at the end of September at a special meeting of city council.