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Mayor hashes out last-minute tweaks to budget

The TTC is a top priority for many councillors. Money is needed to maintain rush-hour and off-peak service and to buy buses for those routes.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

It's a numbers game at city hall, with council members and Mayor Rob Ford's office trying to reach agreement on what is in and what is out of this year's budget in the lead up to next week's council debate.

Mayor Ford and his executive will sit down Thursday to weigh in with what are expected to be some last-minute tweaks after a closed-door meeting Wednesday. What remains to be seen is how much change will be needed to get the 23 votes required at council to pass the fiscal plan. In its current state, the budget includes $86-million in cuts, would eliminate 2,338 city positions, and lay off more than 1,000 workers. The three-day council meeting is the final stage in a months-long effort by the Ford administration to shrink the size of government and reduce spending that began with this summer's review of core services. What gets saved and sacrificed in the name of cost savings will be a key test for the mayor and his opponents.

The Surplus: $154-million

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Budget head Mike Del Grande has told councillors to keep their mitts off this money that includes one-time savings and revenue from 2011. So far, $115.5-million is earmarked for capital spending, with the rest going to rainy day funds. Opposition councillors argue some of these dollars should be used to save services.

Additional Tax Revenue: $8.8-million

This is new money added to the city's tax base last year. The budget committee has already used $2.8-million to save school nutrition programs, school-based community centres and city programming in two school pools. Staff recommend putting the remaining $6-million in reserves, but most expect it will go to programming.

Tax Increase: 2.5 per cent

Mayor Ford is unlikely to budge on this one, but many – including the Toronto Board of Trade – are floating a higher tax hike as a way to bridge the fiscal gap, noting inflation is closer to 3 per cent. Raising taxes by another half a percentage point would bring in an extra $11-million, the business group says.

What's in play:

TTC routes – $9-million, plus capital investment

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A top priority for many councillors, the money is needed to maintain rush-hour and off-peak service and to buy buses for those routes.

Libraries – $7-million

That's the difference between the proposed budget from the board and the 10-per-cent cut requested by the mayor.

Community Partnership and Investment Program – $4.7-million

The grants to community organizations were cut to save costs, but many argue they leverage millions more in service and should be restored.

Arts and Cultural Funding – $2-million

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The amount required to restore these grants, a cause championed by councillors such as Gary Crawford, a supporter of the mayor.

City use of school pools – $800,000

Two of seven pools were saved by the budget committee at a cost of $295,000. The extra money would save the remaining five on the chopping block.

Mechanical leaf collection – $500,000

The suburban service is near and dear to some loyal Ford supporters in Etobicoke and parts of Scarborough. Expect a motion at Executive Committee.

Saving homeless shelters – $2-million

The budget would close three facilities and shift residents to other sites.

Maintaining priority centres – $1.1-million

The annual revenue expected from charging fees for children and youth programs at these 21 community centres.

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