Councillor Josh Matlow

Globe and Mail: Toronto’s surplus makes Rob Ford a happy man

April 27, 2012

Toronto’s 2011 year-end surplus is a whopping $292-million – $138-million more than city staff forecast when council signed off on this year’s contentious budget, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The final figures for 2011 are expected to be released Monday. Mayor Rob Ford hinted at the positive news in a rare thank-you e-mail to all city staff late Friday.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your extremely hard work and dedication to getting our City’s finances back on track,” Mr. Ford wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe.

“The 2011 year-end financials that will become public on Monday make it crystal clear that your hard work has paid off to benefit all who live and do business in this great city,” the e-mail continues. “The hundreds of millions of dollars in permanent and sustainable savings that were realized in the 2012 Budget is a direct result of your tireless efforts throughout 2011 to contain costs while providing quality benefits to the residents of Toronto.”

The e-mail, which was distributed by the city’s strategic communications department at 5:10 p.m., doesn’t specify the size of the 2011 surplus.

But a city hall source told The Globe the gross surplus is $292-million, about $7-million of which must be socked away in rainy day funds for Exhibition Place and Toronto’s building department.

Most of the remaining $285-million will go towards new streetcars to replace the TTC’s aging fleet, as council directed at the budget vote in January.

About $15-million of the surplus has already been dedicated to restoring funding to ice rinks, pools, community grants, homeless shelters, mechanical leaf collection and the TTC this year.

Mr. Ford tried to axe or reduce some of those services, but he was thwarted by a handful of centrist councillors led by rookie Josh Colle.

When Mr. Colle and his allies voted to siphon money from the 2011 surplus, council was working with a much lower forecast. At the time, finance staff predicted the surplus would be $154-million.

While the $292-million final figure is impressive, it’s not as high as the surplus former mayor David Miller left for Mr. Ford.

Toronto’s 2010 surplus was a stunning $367-million, all of which Mr. Ford and council voted to use to balance the books in 2011, the same year Mr. Ford reduced the city’s revenue by killing the vehicle-registration tax and freezing property taxes.

The mayor’s thank-you note to staff came hours after he showed off a new fighting form at a news conference, blasting recent proposals to lower city speed limits or impose road tolls.

Standing on a windy corner in northern Etobicoke Friday morning, Mr. Ford responded to reporters’ questions with a bravado that has seldom been seen at city hall in the last month, dishing out quips to his critics before putting on work gloves to fill in a pothole at a busy suburban intersection.

The media event, to promote a new app to report potholes, was the first public appearance for the mayor this week, who missed his Sunday radio show because of illness.

“I’ve been around. I’m doing fine,” he said, before letting off a round of rapid-fire responses to the week’s headlines.

On Monday, the Board of Health will consider a recommendation from the city’s medial officer of health to lower speed limits. Mr. Ford’s response: “Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts. No. Absolutely ridiculous.”

A proposal by rookie councillor Josh Matlow to set up a working group to study initiatives to pay for transit expansion including road tolls and a regional sales tax also elicited a one-liner from the mayor.

“I am totally, 100-per-cent opposed to toll roads,” he said. “ If they want to float it, I am going to try to sink it.”

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