Homeowners in Toronto can expect a 2 per cent hike on their property tax bill in 2013, after city councillors voted to approve the increase Tuesday.

The tax increase was passed in a 38-6 vote, as councillors rejected three other proposals that sought hikes of 3.1 per cent, 2.25 per cent and a status quo zero per cent.

A tax cancellation program for households with combined incomes of less than $38,000 a year was also passed by a margin of 28-16.

City councillors have set aside three days to debate more than $9 billion in planned spending for 2013.

Ahead of the budget debate Tuesday morning, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said: "We have turned the corner, but there is so much more work to do. We must stay focused and committed to representing the best interests of all the taxpayers of this great city.

"I urge council to support this budget."

Other highlights of the proposed $9.4 billion operating budget include:

more than $500 million for a ten-year overhaul of the aging Gardiner Expressway

budget freezes for agencies including the TTC, Toronto Police Service

the elimination of one fire station, four fire trucks and 101 unfilled firefighting jobs, while hiring 20 firefighters and 15 fire-prevention officers

the hiring of 40 new paramedics

$6 million in additional funding for the arts

Ford has been on a media blitz in recent days, pumping up the budget plan while awaiting the results of an appeal that could see him booted out of office.

A three-judge panel is now weighing their decision on Ford's appeal of his previous conflict-of-interest conviction. If the panel rules against Ford, his fate as mayor would be left in the hands of city council to decide whether the job should be filled by his re-appointment, another interim candidate or in a byelection.

In a move observers have suggested is an attempt to curry favour with the 44 councillors who might be asked to decide his future, last week Ford championed $7 million in budget additions.

The spending package approved by the city's executive committee last Thursday included the funds to hire emergency-service workers, as well as cash for student-nutrition programs and adult involvement at priority recreation centres.

A famously outspoken champion of stopping the "gravy train" of city spending, Ford has trumpeted this latest spending plan as a turning point in the city's finances.

"For this first time in Toronto's history, we have a budget that will not rely on prior surpluses to or one-time found money to be balanced," Ford said Tuesday.

His pride was lost, however, on the dozens of firefighters who filled the council chambers gallery wearing red T-shirts in protest.

They turned out to support the position of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, which claims the proposed job cuts to their agency would affect response times, and potentially put Torontonians' lives at risk.

In his remarks ahead of the meeting, however, Ford denied the suggestion.

"This budget, folks, did not come without the usual fear-mongering from the usual suspects. The truth is that this budget provides the resources to hire 35 more fire prevention officers and firefighters, on top of the 40 new firefighters who graduate on February 1st."

In addition, he said, the spending plan includes funding for the ongoing construction of four new fire stations across the city, as well as an assortment of new equipment.

The marathon council meeting is expected to last three days.

Before it's over, councillors will also cast votes on a 10-year, $15.2 billion capital spending plan that includes more than $500 million for repairs to the aging Gardiner Expressway, as well as another $1.2 billion for transit.

With files from CTV Toronto and CP24