Outside panel will examine Toronto’s books

Outside panel will examine Toronto’s books

Toronto Mayor David Miller has announced an independent panel of business, education and labour professionals to review the city’s books and suggest ways to improve the government’s performance.

“I’m announcing this panel in response to concerns raised by a number of members of council that the city’s operations both be efficient and seem to be effective,” Miller told reporters at city hall on Thursday morning.

Critics of Miller’s new tax plan have repeatedly called for an outside group to examine the city’s $7.8 billion budget.

Miller argues city hall is well run, but the city needs new sources of revenue.

The panel will examine city spending over the last four years and make recommendations on where savings can be made. The report will also comment on how city hall operates.

The experts will report back in February, in time for consideration of the 2008 budget, the mayor said. The city is facing a $575 million budget shortfall next year.

The panel will be chaired by real estate executive Blake Hutcheson, president of CB Richard Ellis Ltd.

The other members are:

  • Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment;
  • Rahul Bhardwaj, president of the Toronto Community Foundation;
  • Dr. Lorna Marsden, former president of York University;
  • Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union; and
  • Paul Massara, head of private equity firm Genesis Capital Corporation.

Miller’s announcement comes days before a historical tax debate. On Monday, councillors will vote on two controversial levies that the mayor says is needed to help the cash-strapped city.

Council is split on supporting the land transfer tax and vehicle registration fee. Miller hopes the creation of the panel will convince the undecided councillors to support his tax plan.

“I think it’s an important step. I want this council to come together next week,” he said.

Miller says residents are willing to pay higher taxes if it means there won’t be any cutbacks to city services.

“Torontonians have been abundantly clear — they want to see their public services maintained and they want to invest in new public services, like rapid transit in Etobicoke and northeast Scarborough,” Miller said.

The mayor said the city cannot sustain itself without the new “revenue tools.” His says the two proposed taxes could raise $356 million a year.

Miller is reportedly working on softening the impact of the land transfer tax to get the vote to pass on Monday. Examples include reducing the percentage a buyer would be taxed and grandfathering purchase agreements for condominium buyers.

The taxes, if implemented, would see homebuyers pay about $4,200 more on an average Toronto home, while an annual vehicle registration tax would cost car owners $60 and motorcycle owners $30.

During the press conference, the mayor also lashed out at the federal and provincial governments, who he says have increased spending and reported “massive” surpluses, but failed to bail out municipalities.

“I think it’s time the federal and provincial governments got their house in order by ensuring that cities in Canada, not just Toronto, have proper financing.”

With reports from CTV’s Chris Eby and Austin Delaney