The City of Toronto is being told to cut nearly half-a-billion dollars in spending as Premier Doug Ford looks to extend his signature election campaign promise of “saving four cents of every dollar.”

Ford wants municipalities and school boards across the province to slash their budgets by four per cent and announced Tuesday that his government is putting up $7.35 million to help municipal governments find budgetary savings through line-by-line or value-for-money audits.

The request – which Ford says is “voluntary” for now – comes as large cities complain of cuts to local public health agencies, which has added financial pressures to their budgets.

The City of Toronto said it’s already facing a $178 million funding shortfall in its current budget and that will impact child care, public health and library services.

“Now we’ve heard from a few municipalities that they will have to raise taxes,” Ford said in a speech to the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce and the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade.

“I’m here to tell you, there is another way out there.”

Ford said the new expectation for large urban municipalities and district school boards is to follow in the Progressive Conservative government’s footsteps and set a benchmark of finding savings of four-cents-on the dollar.

For Toronto, that could amount to a $462 million cut based on the 2019 tax supported budget of $11.56 billion.

Ford said that with 92 per cent of provincial funds being transferred to municipalities, school boards, hospitals, universities and other agencies, the financial review is necessary to clamp down on a $11.7 billion deficit and a $347 billion debt.

However, a spokesperson for the Premier’s Office tells CTV News Toronto this is less of a directive and more of a challenge to cities, along with an offer of financial help to find savings.

The Premier’s Office also stresses there won’t be any consequences – such as a reduction in transfer payments – if cities can’t attain the efficiency goal.

Following the announcement, Toronto Mayor John Tory suggested Ford was pulling a “$7 million public relations exercise” by offering municipalities money to conduct line-by-line audits, noting that Toronto must balance its budget by law.

“Right now, staff are already looking line-by-line at our City’s budget in 2019 to determine ways in which we can find further efficiencies this late in the year,” Tory said in a statement. “While I am confident we can find some, we know that we will not be able to find a further $177 million in efficiencies in 2019. This is because the province has applied cuts retroactively, and we are left to find a higher magnitude of efficiencies than ever before, half way through the year.”

“It does us no good getting money for a line-by-line audit that we’re already doing, without consideration from the Province of the fact that these retroactive, mid-year cuts will seriously hurt residents and families.”

Tory sent a letter to Ford on Sunday stressing that while Ford was a Toronto city councillor, the city spent $3.5 million for an external review of the books and found just $12.6 million in savings.