Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says his current exercise to wrestle down a city budget deficit of $774 million is about finding efficiencies, not making service cuts.

"We should have never been in the hole by the amount of ($774) million," Ford said Friday in an interview with CP24's Stephen LeDrew.

Coun. Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), one of Ford's main opponents on council, scoffed at that view.

"He can call them efficiencies, but KPMG calls them reductions or elimination of services, privatization, contracting out," she said after the interview aired, referring to a $3-million study carried out by the consulting firm for the city.

While he vowed to do what he could to prevent a property tax rise in 2012, Ford wouldn't rule one out. He encouraged people to phone their councillors and lobby them to vote against any tax increase.

"I'm only one vote on council. There are 44 other councillors, and I hope they are listening to their constituents," he said.

For its 2011 budget, the Ford administration inherited a $286-million surplus from the 2010 budget of former mayor David Miller's era.

In his first budget, Ford moved to axe the $60 vehicle registration tax -- which eliminated about $40 million in revenue. He also froze the property tax rate while saying during the municipal election campaign that he wouldn't increase property taxes by more than the rate of inflation.

Some councillors say the current deficit faced by the city is $443 million -- when extra revenue, such as additional 2010 budget surplus money -- is taken into account.

The Ford administration contracted KPMG to conduct a review of core services to identify ways to cut the cost of government. The mayor said the review give the city options to save money.

"We're finding efficiencies. We're making every single department accountable," Ford said.

Davis said the eight reports consist of hundreds of pages. She claimed they say more than 90 per cent of the city's services should be considered core. Hundreds of people have told council standing committees that these services are what make Toronto a good place to live, she said.

Ford said taxpayers have three essential needs for City Hall to meet:

  • making the city safe
  • smooth, clean roads
  • a clean city, with graffiti eliminated and garbage picked up regularly

Ford is moving to privatize garbage collection in Toronto between Etobicoke and Yonge Street. He is considering expanding privatization to the entire city.

Ford said the police and fire services won't be spared in the hunt for wasteful spending.

"But at the end of the day, it's the councillors that are going to make the decision and say, 'Do we want to eliminate police officers?' In my opinion, no. That's at the bottom of the list."

The Toronto Police Service accounts for $977 million in spending, the third-most costly service behind the TTC and Toronto Employment and Social Services.

For the police, almost 86 per cent of its budget costs are related to salary and benefits.

The Toronto Police Services board has offered some senior ranking officers early retirement packages. Coun. Michael Thompson told CTV News that the first layoffs in the service's history may have to be considered.

The city may also make a buyout package available to about 17,000 city workers in an effort to reduce the headcount.

During the election campaign, Ford suggested the city's staff could be reduced through attrition.

Ford promised during the campaign and afterwards there wouldn't be any services cut, but some targets proposed could include library closures and eliminating grants to feed hungry students.

Ford said the KPMG review was about identifying the services the city should be involved in delivering. He mused about whether the city should own theatres or if the Toronto Parking Authority should be privatized.

"We can't sit here and every single time, say to the taxpayers: 'There's going to be a tax increase. There's going to be a tax increase,'" he said. "I think people have had enough."