In a sign of busy days to come, Mayor Rob Ford mentioned almost an aside at his first news conference that he will freeze Torontonians’ property taxes in 2011.

The surprise promise, following seven straight years of hikes under his predecessor David Miller, came at a news conference in Ford’s new office dominated by his plan to kill the Transit City light rail project.

“I’ve asked staff to come back with a zero-based budget,” Ford told a side room packed with media, politicians and aides. “Property taxes will not go up this year.”

Ford had campaigned on a platform that included an inflation-based tax increase of about 1.8 per cent, while making deep cuts to city spending.

His main rival, George Smitherman, had promised a freeze, something Ford dubbed “impossible” during the campaign.

Ford didn’t explain yesterday where he would find the cash to hold the line on taxes while not cutting municipal services.

After the amalgamated city was formed in 1998, Mayor Mel Lastman delivered a three-year tax freeze. Even some right-wing members of council have said that left Toronto in a financial hole.

Property taxes have since jumped by three to five per cent a year.

“Toronto taxpayers expect the wasteful spending and the annual tax increases to come to an end,” Ford said. “There’ll be no major service cuts next year. We’re going to keep the budget exact same as this year.”

Opposition councillors credit Ford’s financial flexibility to a 2010 operating budget surplus of roughly $275 million left behind by Miller, much of it produced by deferring new hires.

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