Council rejects Rob Ford’s budget cuts

Only four of mayor's 18 motions pass as his $60 million in "savings" fails to materialize


After boasting for a month that he had found at least $50 million in waste in the city budget, Rob Ford only managed to get $726,000 worth of his cuts through council on Thursday.

The mayor moved a host motions at the council meeting, which was the second and final day of a frequently chippy debate over the 2014 budget.

Ford’s 18 motions included:

– eliminating $7 million to plant 97,000 trees

– $2.5 million in savings by charging $14 for to register for the Welcome Policy, which subsidizes recreation programs for low income families

– reversing $600,000 in increases to the student nutrition program

– eliminating security guards at libraries to save $1.6 million

– reversing a $390,000 increase to community grants

– axing council’s $3.1-million general expense fund and its $60,000 travel budget, and cutting each councillor’s staff salary budget by about 10 per cent

All but four of Ford’s motions were voted down, and only two of them had any impact on the 2014 budget: eliminating the city’s employment engagement survey for savings of $250,000, and scrapping two city newsletters worth $476,000.

Ford’s two other successful motions requested reports on finding $19.1 million in corporate sponsorships for the Pan Am Games and accelerating an effort to streamline city services, which Ford predicted could save up to $15 million.

Neither report guarantees any additional money for the city, but because Ford had characterized them as part of his $50 to 60 million in “savings,” council’s approval of them undermined his claim that he was the only politician interested in reducing spending.

The $9.6-billion budget eventually passed by a count of 35 to 9, with the mayor and his brother Councillor Doug Ford voting against. After the vote, the mayor repeated his claim that it was “the worst budget that has ever been presented.”

He called it a “phantom budget” because councillors voted to increase spending by estimating that the land transfer tax will bring in $349.6 million this year. Staff originally estimated it would only net $335 million.

“They’re counting on money that we haven’t got,” the mayor said.

Ford erroneously claimed that his motions had saved “a million dollars,” and said he looked forward to putting his budget performance to the test at the October election.

“I just can’t get wait to get campaigning, and put my record up against everyone else’s,” he said.

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon argued that if Ford wanted more of his motions to pass, he should have presented them to councillors during the course of the two-month budget process, instead of keeping them secret until this week.

“I’m not able to understand how he works,” McMahon said. “If he’s genuine, he would have gone around and spoken to his councillor colleagues, and tried to get support and be the bridge builder that we need a mayor to be.”

Rather than back Ford’s plans, council supported a series of motions from Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who has been the city government’s de facto leader since Ford was stripped of many of his powers in November.

They included an additional $3 million for TTC operations, $300,000 in community grants, and cancelling an increase to Island ferry fees.

As his colleagues filtered out of the chamber Thursday evening, Kelly praised them for working together.

“I’m very, very pleased with the cooperation that you saw today among members of this council,” he said. “This truly was a collegial effort. And so the budget is not mine, it’s theirs.”

Councillor Gord Perks echoed that sentiment, suggesting that council had rallied after a year that saw Ford’s numerous scandals repeatedly plunge City Hall into turmoil.

“We’ve managed to recover from a disaster and bring forward a budget that actually accomplishes some very good things,” he said, highlighting a decision to expand free programming at community centres.

Despite the lengthy debate on Thursday, Ford had already lost the key battle on the residential property tax rate. The mayor wanted an increase of only 1.75 per cent, but on Wednesday council approved a 2.23-per-cent hike, plus an additional policy-mandated .48-per-cent raise.

The rate includes a .5-per-cent levy for the Scarborough subway extension, which will add about $13 to the average property tax bill. Councillor Josh Matlow attempted to derail the controversial transit plan by moving a motion to block any spending on it in 2014, but he was left frustrated when the speaker ruled him out of order.

bens@nowtoronto.com | @BenSpurr

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