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Hike in property taxes likely: City Budget Chief

Torontonians should brace themselves for increases in property taxes, Budget Chief, Coun. Michael Del Grande warned Thursday.

“We are looking at tax increases,” Del Grande told CityNews. “Property taxes are on the table.”

How much they would go up wasn’t made clear, but when it comes to solving Toronto’s massive budget shortfall, Del Grande warned substantial tax hikes, in conjunction with service cuts and other belt-tightening measures, were all being considered. 

“If we wanted to solve this problem by property taxes we’d have to increase them by at least 25 per cent, just to tread water.  I don’t think 25 per cent is doable.”

With the city facing a $774 million budget shortfall in 2012, Mayor Ford is calling for some serious cut backs at various departments, including Toronto Fire and Police.

On Thursday, Del Grande defended the mayor’s position, despite the perception that public safety could be jeopardized.

“There are no sacred cows,” he stressed.  “Including firefighters and police and EMS.”

Toronto Fire Chief Bill Stewart told the city he would have to lay off approximately 300 firefighters, idling 22 trucks, in order to meet Ford’s 10 per cent budget reduction target, according to a report in the Toronto Star Thursday.

“I’m deeply concerned for public safety,” said Ed Kennedy, Toronto Professional Firefighters Association.  “It’s going to put the public at risk.”

The second phase of a core services review conducted by KPMG at the behest of the mayor also suggests merging Toronto Fire with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to save administrative costs.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is also struggling to meet similar budget demands. Coun. Michael Thompson, vice chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, has asked Blair to investigate the impact a lay-off involving 500 officers and 200 civilians would have on the force.

On Tuesday, City Manager Joe Penachetti announced a voluntary buyout package is being offered to 17,000 municipal workers.

KPMG has also suggested the city could save money by phasing out the 2,000 daycare spaces it subsidizes and outsourcing or selling its long-term care facilities.

Meanwhile, Mark Ferguson, the head of CUPE Local 416, said he’s expecting the city to lock out the union’s 6,700 members by mid–January.