TORONTO – Toronto councillors grilled Mayor Rob Ford Monday morning as they kicked off a special city council to deal with service cuts. The grilling came ahead of what’s expected to be a tough debate over cuts approved last week by the executive committee.
Selling the Toronto Zoo and three city-owned theatres, eliminating the public realm’s neighbourhood improvement program, and closing some museums are all options on the table.
Ford spent around an hour and a half answering questions from councillors about the budget shortfall and the cuts he is recommending. He started off by painting a bleak picture of the city’s finances.
“Right now our financial foundation is crumbling,” Ford told councillors in his opening speech. “If we don’t fix this financial foundation now, our dreams for the future will collapse.”
Under questioning from Councillor Josh Matlow, Ford said he believed the businesses the city should be in include police, fire, EMS, TTC and maintaining Toronto’s roads. Throughout the questions and answers, Ford repeated taxpayers continue to tell him, “Rob, stay the course.”
Despite polls showing his popularity slipping, Ford shrugged off suggestions from Councillor John Filion he doesn’t respect all taxpayers the same.
“I think I’m doing well, if there was an election today, I truly believe I would be re-elected,” Ford said.
The mayor repeatedly said he isn’t in favour of a double digit tax increase to help balance the budget.
He warned a 35% increase would be needed to fill the $774 million budget shortfall, causing the average homeowners tax bill to jump between $800 and $1,000.
Ford predicted such a hike would push elderly residents out of their homes.
“You might as well just kiss this city good-bye,” he said.
Councillor Anthony Perruzza questioned Ford if the costs to kill Transit City were factored into the budget shortfall.
“I just want to know from the mayor, how he intends to pay for that ill-fated decision day one on the job,” Perruzza said.
The cancellation costs — which have yet to be hammered out — are not included in the shortfall.
But Ford repeated his belief that Transit City, started by his predecessor former mayor David Miller, was a mistake.
“Transit City ruined this city,” he said.
Councillor Adam Vaughan stressed councillors don’t have enough information to make these decisions.
“We need to know the numbers before we can say no to somebody in this city,” he told reporters.
The council meeting is expected to continue until 8 p.m. Monday and again on Tuesday.
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