Rob Ford’s executive team has removed some of the sting from his proposed 2012 budget, stripping out controversial cuts that would have shredded arts grants, eliminated an emergency fund for the city’s poor, stopped sidewalk snow-clearing and slashed the library budget.
With a flurry of motions that so overwhelmed the clerk Mr. Ford had to call a half-hour recess, councillors tabled 11 motions that kept the mayor’s core budget in place while addressing public concerns about the fiscal blueprint.
The motions blunted the cuts while adhering to a strict spending allowance from the mayor’s office of roughly $6-million, the amount remaining from a surge in property-tax assessments city staff reported last week.
They also stay within the 2.5-per-cent increase for residential taxes, with Mr. Ford proclaiming he does not want to spend “a nickel more.”
The mayor, who supported all the measures as a single package, praised the efforts of his executive.
“I am very proud of my executive and I am very, very, very confident this is getting through council,” he said.
The question now is whether that will be the case. Council will begin debate on the budget next week and the mayor needs 23 votes to pass his fiscal plan.
A number of controversial cuts remain on the table, and several non-executive councillors have argued that with a $154-million surplus the city can afford to save all the programs the mayor has proposed to cut.
But efforts to dip into that surplus for operating expenses have suddenly become more complicated. Tucked among the motions at executive was a recommendation from Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong to commit 100 per cent of the city’s surplus towards $700-million in capital needs at the Toronto Transit Commission.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, a frequent critic of the mayor, predicted more changes are in the works, such as preserving TTC service. “I think you will see over the weekend the conversations to get things done,” he said. “There are a number of issues where momentum is building and is continuing to evolve.”
The executive recommended saving the following from cuts:
-$927,900 in sidewalk snow-clearing
-$3-million in cuts to the library budget
-Half a year’s funding for the Hardship Fund dedicated to seniors and low-income residents
-A temporary reprieve for three homeless shelters until alternate housing arrangement for current tenants can be guaranteed
-$1.9-million worth of arts and culture grants
At the outset of the Executive Committee meeting on Thursday morning, Mr. Ford vowed to hold the line on a residential tax increase at 2.5 per cent, saying he has met personally with hundreds of residents who have made it clear they want him to hold the line on taxes.
Toronto residents, he said “know we face difficult decisions and they expect us to be tough enough to make them. “
The mayor's executive meeting is the latest hurdle for the proposed budget, a package that would cut $86-million in services and eliminates more than 2,000 positions. Council will vote on the fiscal package next week and the mayor's ability to hold the line on spending and taxes will be a test of his austerity agenda.