TORONTO - Mayors and other civic officials across Ontario are anxiously awaiting a report from the province Friday that will spell out the Liberal government's plans to take back some of the costs that were downloaded to municipalities in the 1990s.

Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia said Thursday that he expects the province will only give local governments a small break immediately, and outline a lengthy schedule for taking back some of the $3 billion in annual costs that are currently funded by local property taxes.

"I think they'll throw us a bone in one area, they'll do something, and it won't be large," Bradley said in a telephone interview.

"I'm being realistic, knowing the age of anxiety we are in right now with the economy, that what I expect to see is a timeline of when services will be taken back (by the province)."

Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson -- a former mayor of Ottawa -- refused to release any details Thursday, but said the report was a consensus reached by the province, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the city of Toronto, which is not an AMO member.

"I would have given almost anything to get this kind of a deal when I was mayor," Watson said Thursday.

"It was completely the opposite under the previous administration, it was all about downloading. We've turned the page on that."

Cities and towns complain local property taxes should not be used to pay for things such as court security, social housing and especially welfare, which grows in cost as economic times get tougher and more people are forced onto social assistance.

"Ontario has the highest property taxes in Canada, and the reason is this $3 billion which has been downloaded on us," complained Bradley.

"They've had five years to start undoing the mess we inherited from the Harris government."

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory agreed with Bradley's criticism of the Liberals for not moving earlier to help municipalities, saying Premier Dalton McGuinty missed real opportunities to take back some of the costs that had been downloaded onto local governments.

"They delayed this until after the (2007 Ontario) election, and lo and behold after the election the economy started to sputter and they realized they had created expectations of delivering on something they couldn't meet," said Tory.

"The economy has turned down and Mr. McGuinty wasted four years and four massive surpluses and didn't do anything of any significance when he had the chance."

New Democrat Andrea Horwath said she was worried the Liberals would use the economic downturn as an excuse to delay taking back any significant costs from municipalities for years.

"My biggest concern is that the plan is going to have an extremely long time frame for implementation, and cities can't wait," she said.

"As the economy continues to worsen, more people will begin to rely on social assistance and that will start ballooning those costs, so that is what's got to come off first, and it's got to come off quickly."

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who's been saying that the province can't afford any new spending programs since he announced a $500-million deficit for this year, refused to say if he would have to delay or drag out the uploading of costs from municipalities.

"Whatever agreement we've arrived at we believe it is affordable in the context of our current circumstances," Duncan said.