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Tory tells Ford city will look for savings, if province cancels this year’s budget cuts

Tory tells Ford city will look for savings, if province cancels this year’s budget cuts
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Mayor John Tory is offering Premier Doug Ford “a path forward” to end their poised to hit Toronto public health, child care and transit services.

But Tory’s offer — to scour city finances with provincial and possibly private-sector help — hinges on the penny-pinching being saved for next year’s budget, with Ford halting this year’s estimated $178-million funding clawback.

The mayor notes city council’s vote last week asking Ford to cancel cuts, most of them retroactive to April 1 — after Toronto and other blindsided municipalities had approved 2019 budgets with spending plans and tax bills.

“The city manager has been clear that these cuts create a $177.65-million hole in our already-approved 2019 budget,” Tory wrote in a letter sent to Ford on Monday. “He was also clear that we will not be able to make up this difference with efficiencies alone this far into the fiscal year — if your government proceeds with these cuts, the city will be forced to cut core services or raise taxes.”

City staff peer at every budget line and find savings every year, Tory said, but “to find a higher magnitude of efficiencies than ever before, halfway through the year … It simply defies logic to suggest this is possible.”

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The mayor invites the province to help find savings for 2020 that don’t affect the city’s core services. “We are willing to work with you to find ways to do things better and to save money, but we need time and real dialogue and co-operation to allow us to do so,” he writes.

Ontario’s municipalities grapple with hundreds of millions in provincial funding cuts

News of the unprecedented retroactive cuts, affecting all Ontario municipalities but hitting Toronto the hardest, emerged after Ontario’s April budget.

Toronto city manager Chris Murray says the cuts jeopardize more than 6,000 subsidized child care spots. Councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the Toronto Public Health board, says “people will die” if vital public health services whose costs are shared with the province are reduced or eliminated. TTC riders stand to see $100 million per year in gas tax revenues, used for transit maintenance and improvements, vanish.

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Ford spokesperson Ivana Yelich responded to Tory’s letter, telling the Star that big annual deficits left by the previous Liberal government are forcing the Progressive Conservatives to work toward balanced budgets “in a responsible and reasonable manner.

“As a part of this, municipalities like the city of Toronto who receive billions of provincial taxpayer dollars will have to do their part.”

Yelich added that on Tuesday, Ford will make “an important announcement in support of our municipal partners,” and is always willing to work with them to “find efficiencies and respect taxpayers’ dollars.”

Some at city hall expect Ford to announce his government will offer to help municipalities do line-by-line spending audits to find savings needed to offset the steep cuts in provincial funding.

Cressy, in an interview, said the city has done such audits before and notes it has an auditor general. “Spending millions of dollars to do the exact same thing is a waste of time and money,” he said.

“Torontonians have already decided that public health vaccination programs and child care is not an efficiency”, Cressy said, and if Ford wants to help Toronto’s finances, “he’ll stop cutting our programs.”

In his letter to Queen’s Park, Tory noted that in 2011, Ford and his brother, then mayor Rob Ford, supported spending $3.5 million dollars for an outside review of city spending . “That review found that 90 per cent of the city’s services are core services and resulted in a net savings of just $12.6 million,” Tory wrote.

Meanwhile, Tory is keeping the pressure on Ford and his 11 fellow Toronto Tory MPPs. The mayor and Councillor Michael Thompson will be at a child care centre Tuesday morning talking to parents about the impact of the cuts.

Tory, who has sent letters to the PC MPPs asking them to consider the cuts’ impacts on their constituents, has publicly suggested he will personally go door to door in their ridings to argue against the clawbacks.

Ford has said Toronto is inflating figures on the impact of the cuts, and repeated a decisively debunked claim that he and his brother were able to find $1 billion in savings at city hall.
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