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Ford confident proposed budget will win council approval

Mayor Rob Ford leaves court during a break in proceedings in Toronto on Jan. 7, 2013. Ford is appealing a conflict of interest judgement against him.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

In what could be their last meeting with Rob Ford as mayor, Toronto city councillors are set to decide on the city's spending plans for the coming year, including a proposed 2-per-cent tax increase for homeowners.

The 2013 budget includes plans to invest more than half a billion dollars to revamp the Gardiner Expressway over 10 years; a budget freeze for agencies such as police and TTC; and the elimination of 101 vacant front-line firefighter jobs. Mr. Ford, who could be kicked out of office any day if his appeal of a conflict-of- interest ruling fails, added $6.8-million more in new spending to the budget last week, a result of requests from councillors, he said. That done, Mr. Ford said he would be "shocked" if the budget is not approved as is.

Councillor Josh Colle, who last year spearheaded major changes to the budget on the council floor, said this year's debate is unlikely to see the same major reworking, despite what he characterized as "a lot of frenzy" Monday by some councillors eager to gain support for changes.

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"There are a lot of last-minute efforts," he said. "There are still a lot of people saying more is needed."

One is Councillor Joe Mihevc, who says he has the votes for adding $1.16-million to the city's contribution to student nutrition programs – if he can find a source of funding.

There also is pressure to find more funds for the fire department and public housing.

A last-minute effort to gain support for an additional tax increase to improve TTC service got little traction Monday with the key group of middle councillors whose support will be needed to pass any budget changes.

"I think it's too late in the game," said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon about the possibility of going above a 2-per-cent increase. Ms. McMahon, part of the group of centrists on council that put together the budget compromise last year, said she is happy with the changes introduced by the mayor.

"I think the budget should be supported as is," said Councillor Karen Stintz, TTC chair. " I think executive was quite generous in terms of adding things back in. I think there is a general consensus that it is a good budget and most of the issues have been addressed."

While the mayor made the rounds Monday, doing TV and radio interviews to promote his budget and his fiscal track record, his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, told reporters at City Hall that the 2-per-cent tax increase is "more than fair" and predicted the approval of council.

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"I think we've got the support, but then again you never know," he said. "People get a little crazy in their head."

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