Ontario's Finance Minister said no to the City of Toronto yesterday, declining to offer financial help as city councillors try to fill a $71-million hole in their budget. But officials said the two governments would keep talking.
"We had a conversation, but it was just a conversation," city budget chief Shelley Carroll said yesterday after an hour-long meeting with Finance Minister Greg Sorbara. "I'm very disappointed."
Ms. Carroll said the city would likely now have to raid its reserves in order to balance its $7.8-billion budget, which council's budget committee must wrestle with today. By law, municipalities cannot run operating budget deficits.
Since the province's recent budget provided no new money for the city, she and Mayor David Miller have repeatedly laid out Toronto's financial case. They insist that the province does not pay its share of cost-shared social programs, such as welfare, homeless shelters and child care, a problem that also afflicts other municipalities across the province.
"There was no argument with any of the numbers that I presented," she said yesterday after the meeting in the ministry's offices.
But Mr. Sorbara offered "no commitment to fix" what the city says is a severe financial imbalance. "His words were that he doesn't have a mandate to fix this."
A spokesman in Mr. Sorbara's office painted the purpose of the meeting differently, saying it was not meant to be formal negotiation, but an introduction, because the two had never met face to face in their current roles.
"Mainly he just wanted to have a meet-and-greet with her," said Sean Hamilton, Mr. Sorbara's director of communications. ". . . It was, 'Let's open the lines of communications between the two budget chiefs,' if you will."
Ms. Carroll said the budget committee will not contemplate further cuts to services, saying the city had already made a $40-million chop. Instead, the $71-million needed to balance this year's budget will be drawn from what she said were the city's depleted reserves.
She said she would not increase the budget's already controversial 3.8-per-cent property tax rise, which critics say is higher than Mr. Miller's promised increase "in line with inflation."