Toronto’s city manager is standing by Mayor Rob Ford’s claim of having saved the city nearly $1-billion – but was careful to clarify that this doesn’t mean the mayor has saved residents that amount in taxes.
The city’s chief financial officer, Rob Rossini, released a briefing note Thursday afternoon, the day after Mr. Ford’s rivals in a televised debate accused him of telling a “$1-billion lie.” The note breaks down in detail $972-million in “budget and taxpayer savings” between 2011 to 2014.
During Wednesday night’s CityNews debate, Mr. Ford repeated several times his claim that he’s saved the city $1-billion since he was elected in 2010. “It’s Rob Rossini and [city manager] Mr. Pennachetti,” Mr. Ford told reporters after the debate. “They’re the ones who are giving me those numbers, so if you say I’m lying, you’re calling our chief financial officer and CEO of the City of Toronto liars.”
City manager Joe Pennachetti stood by the figure on Thursday, but warned reporters that residents should not necessarily expect these “budget savings” to translate to savings out of their own wallets.
“They are not $1-billion of tax savings,” Mr. Pennachetti said. “If he calls it budget savings, he’s correct. If he calls it expenditure cuts only, that’s not correct.”
The terminology is important, he said, because the city’s definition of “budget savings” includes things like $30-million in increased user fees (which translate to higher costs for residents for certain services).
Mr. Pennachetti explained that the $972-million in “budget savings” does not actually mean the city has spent $972-million less than in years past.
The definition of “budget savings” includes incidents where staff have originally budgeted for a certain amount, but ended up spending less. For example, if the city expects a $50-million increase in spending on police but, through various reductions, only ends up spending $15-million, then the $35-million difference is counted as a “budget savings.”
At least one councillor accused Mr. Pennachetti and Mr. Rossini of “misleading” residents with the briefing note, and intervening in the mayoral race.
Councillor Gord Perks, who disputes the figure by saying that much of it is “phantom savings,” said he’s “profoundly disappointed” by Mr. Pennachetti and Mr. Rossini’s actions. In a letter of complaint to Mr. Pennachetti, Mr. Perks described the note as “without context” and “misleading.”
“I don’t know why the public service feels they need to enter into the mayoralty debate,” he told reporters at City Hall. “If Mr. Rossini wants to run for mayor, he can run across the hall, pay his $200 and run.”
But Mr. Pennachetti said Thursday that the briefing note had originally been sent to reporters back in November, and only re-circulated because they were asked again about it after Wednesday night’s debate.
“Having been through the budgetary process for four years, at every step of the process, you go from a wild guess to actual numbers,” Mr. Perks said of the difference between original estimates and the amount actually spent.
“You can’t credit Rob Ford for the difference between the first wild guess and the actual numbers.”
He added that the mayor has actually voted against several of the budgets during his mayoralty, meaning he shouldn’t be able to take credit for the results.
“If the mayor had voted for any of the last three budgets, he might have had some role, but he didn’t actually set the final terms of the budget except in his first year, so he’s actually had no role,” he said.
Editor's note: Councillor Gord Perks said that the mayor cannot take credit for the final terms of the budget, not City Manager Joe Pennachetti, as earlier reported. This online version has been corrected.