Toronto’s new budget chief Frank Di Giorgio’s first day on the job was marked by confusion, as he first told reporters he would attempt to freeze property taxes in 2014, then said that homeowners would likely have to pay an inflationary increase.
“I think anything is doable,” said Di Giorgio in front of reporters Tuesday, Feb. 5, morning, shortly after Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee appointed him budget chief, replacing former budget chief Mike Del Grande, who resigned last month. “I think that we certainly can try and if it’s doable it will be done.”
Di Giorgio had been answering a reporter’s question as to whether he could deliver on a property tax freeze as requested by Mayor Ford.
But in an interview with Toronto Community News just two hours later, Di Giorgio revised his statement.
“I don’t think that’s doable,” he said. “But hey – I basically will try and deliver whatever the mandate is, but I also think that you have to be reasonable and residents out there will be reasonable – they will understand if all you’re asking for is an inflationary thing.”
Di Giorgio has served as a member of Toronto’s budget committee since 2010, alongside Del Grande. He was offered the job first publicly on the mayor’s radio show Sunday. Ford described Di Giorgio as “very very loyal to the administration,” and someone who understood the value of money.
Di Giorgio, for his part, had praise for Del Grande’s leadership on the budget committee and maintained that he would do his best to fulfill “the mandate” of Mayor Ford.
But early on, he appeared to run into trouble. He said that he believed he could direct staff to prepare departmental budgets that showed no increase in departmental expenditures. He said that he didn’t think there remained enough so-called “gravy” to actually cut into those budgets enough to make up for inflationary increases.
He maintained that taxpayers would understand dealing with inflationary increases “separately” with a small tax increase.
Di Giorgio also appeared to be at odds with the mayor when it came to the question of the land transfer tax. Ford told reporters that he would like to try to cut Toronto’s land transfer tax by 10 per cent in 2014.
Di Giorgio said that if the city were to do so, it would have to make up the revenue elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t mind dedicating a portion of the land transfer tax to something specific,” said Di Giorgio, adding that he believed the city would need to deal with the province in order to make changes to the land transfer tax.
Di Giorgio also made it clear that he intended to take a higher-level approach to the job of wrestling the city’s nearly $10-billion budget, relying on senior staff to craft the more detailed budgets – an approach that markedly contrasts with former chair Del Grande’s detail-oriented approach to dealing with the city’s capital and operating budgets.
“I won’t be taking that approach, nor will I take the kind of personal affronts that he took,” said Di Giorgio.
“It’s a function of how you see yourself and your own skill levels – and when someone has a contrary opinion to you, how do you deal with it. At the end of the day, if someone has a contrary opinion to me, council adjudicates things. I would hope that they would keep the mandate. If in their wisdom they don’t, I may be disappointed – but I won’t be overly disappointed.”
Former budget chief Shelley Carroll said that in the end, Di Giorgio – a former math teacher – may have difficulty with ‘the mandate’ when it comes to the dollars-and-cents realities of budgeting.
“At the end of the day things have to add up for a math teacher,” said Carroll. “The mayor has demonstrated that he votes according to how things appear to people... Frank may find himself drawn into that ideological messaging exercise and then discover he can’t satisfy his own instincts as a math teacher to make sure that the sums add up. That will be the real challenge between the two of them.”