12/17/2012 06:09 EST | Updated 02/16/2013 05:12 EST

Budget committee approves 2% property tax increase

Toronto's budget committee has approved a two per cent property tax increase next year, which comes in slightly above what staff had proposed.

While staff had suggested a 1.95 per cent increase, the budget committee approved a two per cent increase during its final meeting of the year on Monday.

Budget chief Mike Del Grande said the money will be used to fund the city's botanical gardens, as well as fund nutrition and recreation programs.

Del Grande said he wants no more spending added when council debates the budget in the new year.

Another topic that came up during the budget committee meeting was the state of the Gardiner Expressway, which is going to need tens of millions of dollars in repairs over the next decade.

Coun. Adam Vaughan moved a motion calling on the city to study the idea of selling or leasing the elevated freeway to a private operator.

Vaughan said the buyer would charge tolls to fix the crumbling structure and raise funds for other infrastructure.

"If we have an ability here to fix the road, while we build public transit, while we take pressure off Toronto taxpayers, I think it's something we should study before we make any final decisions on the Gardiner," Vaughan said.

Mayor absent

Meanwhile, Mayor Rob Ford was absent from city hall on Tuesday, as he continued an ongoing vacation in Florida.

His brother, Coun. Doug Ford, said Tuesday that critics should "get something better to do" rather than complain about the fact that the mayor is taking a vacation.

"Can he not take a week off? Give me a break," the mayor’s brother told reporters on Monday.

"He's the only guy that didn't go away for 10 years. If people want to pick on him going on a vacation for one week, well, tell them to get something better to do."

As the mayor's trip to Florida extended into its second week, many people at city hall were asking when he would be coming back.

Coun. Joe Mihevc speculated that the mayor's appeal of a judicial order to remove him from office could be part of the reason he is away from work.

"My political calculus is that he is laying low because of the appeal issues. One can understand that from a political level; however, at the same time, there is the business of council," Mihevc said.

But Doug Ford said the mayor's vacation is a non-issue.

"Rob's entitled to a vacation once a year," the councillor said.

Doug Ford declined to say precisely when the mayor would be returning to work, though he said his brother would be home for Christmas.

"I'm sure you'll be seeing Rob," he said.