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Rob Ford's budget mess

First, Rob Ford hired a corporate assassin in KPMG to do his dirty work, a futile attempt to distance himself from the planned sacking of Toronto.

End subsidized daycare. Close libraries. Sell the zoos. Padlock museums.

“Don’t blame us,” Rob Ford's cronies protest. “These are just recommendations from the consultants.”

Pulling a Pontius Pilate and washing its hands, KPMG said, “These are not recommendations; they are a list of opportunities….”

The carefully crafted image is one of positive ventures; investments. Instead, by the end of the month, Toronto could face:

Fewer medical calls from fire fighters. A smaller police force. Reduced TTC service. Death of the “Hardship Fund” that provides medical services for the city’s poor.

City manager Joe Pennachetti came clean Monday and dipped his hands into the blood. When he pulled them out, few city services remained untouched by the axe. Ah, yes, Joe P is recommending many of the very cuts, er, opportunities, KPMG listed in July.

Now, the bleeding mess has been dumped in Mayor Rob Ford’s hands, where it belongs.

It is the same mayor who looked voters in the eye a year ago and swore on their votes that he could find close to $2 billion in savings at city hall without chopping a single service. Waste, he said, littered the city hall corridors like the leaves of autumn.

Rob Ford, of course, found teaspoons of “gravy” where he pointed to vats of supposed waste. So, next Monday his hand-picked executive committee of 12 sycophants must vote on Pennachetti’s recommendations and advise city council where to cut:

End the very popular community environment days. New “minimum standards” for snow removal, grass cutting. Chop $6 million from community and arts grants — affecting TIFF, AGO, ROM, and tiny community groups.

Caught, hoisted on his own petard, as they say, the penny-pinching mayor must preside over the destruction of the city so many built to become one of the most livable places in the world.

Those heady days are gone — as we’ll discover years hence, when the ranking agencies discover a deteriorating city.

Urban observers already know this: Small grants to community groups are the seeds of peace, social harmony, economic development, and a sense of belonging.

K’naan, he of “Wavin’ Flag” fame, is now a world-scale ambassador. But it was a small city grant that helped him put down roots in Rexdale, germinate, and find his place in the music universe.

Kill those grants and no one knows the dreams that are rendered stillborn in our priority neighbourhoods.

City council is the only buffer against such a future. Many councillors delude themselves into thinking the current ruinous exercise is a careful examination of the city’s fiscal condition. It is not. It is a deceitful exercise devised by a mayor who cares nothing about the collateral damage of his rampage against city services and programs he never needed and never took the time to understand.

Pennachetti has served in all the regions around Toronto. He believes that one way to relieve Toronto’s cash crunch is to reduce service to the levels of its neighbours in York, Durham and Peel.

Another way is to increase Toronto property taxes to the level of its neighbours. Ahh, that, of course, is not on the table in this exhaustive fiscal review.

Instead, we have a mayor who killed a vehicle tax source that delivered $64 million a year and plans to kill a land transfer tax that nets up to $250 million annually.

And to pay for these Rob Ford sinks the city into a divisive debate that, even if every recommendation were approved, gets us just $100 million this year.

Which means Rob Ford will still have to raise taxes by at least 3% by December 2011 just to make ends meet.

Its no wonder Rob Ford is getting death threats. He's axing jobs and raising taxes at the same time.

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