Toronto

City council boosting councillors' staffing, office budgets in wake of province's cuts

Toronto's city council has voted to double office staffing budgets in the wake of the province's controversial mid-election council cuts, which increased ward sizes while chopping the number of councillors from a planned 47 down to 25.

'We need these resources,' Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said during Wednesday's debate

Councillors have voted to double their office staffing budgets. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Toronto's city council has voted to double office staffing budgets in the wake of the province's controversial mid-election council cuts, which increased ward sizes while chopping the number of councillors from a planned 47 down to 25.

On Wednesday, during the first meeting of the new term, Mayor John Tory and a majority of council backed a motion from Coun. Paul Ainslie to boost each staffing envelope from $241,000 to $482,000 — matching the largest increase out of three possible options proposed by city staff.

Ainslie said the boost will help councillors look after their communities in a "meaningful" way.

"From sunrise to sunset ... we interact with our residents more than any other level of government," he added.

Currently, in addition to the $241,000 salary pool, each councillor has a $34,000 office budget. Ainslie's motion, which passed with a vote of 18-8, also means each office budget will go up to $50,000.

The beefed-up budgets were welcome news to councillors from across the city, with many noting the rise in calls and requests from community members even before the start of the new term.

During Wednesday's debate, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam spoke of the high population growth, poverty levels, and development applications in her now-larger downtown ward. "In order for us to carry this load ... we need these resources," she said.

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who also backed the increase, said it's clear that not all councillors require the same financial boost, and "nobody's forcing anybody to spend money."

But other councillors expressed concern over the changes, including Coun. Michael Ford, nephew of Premier Doug Ford — whose government imposed the controversial cuts, sparking legal battles and questions about city governance.

"We budget for a reason," Ford stressed. "All of our city divisions stay within their means of what we approve in the budget. Why should councillors not be held to the same standard?"

Staff recommend 'recalibrating' governance structure

When the cuts were announced over the summer, Premier Ford promised $25 million in savings over a four-year span.

While fewer councillors means fewer salaries on the payroll, the doubled per-office staffing budget could actually wind up higher on the city's bottom line. The status quo salary envelope multiplied by the previous number of councillors — 44 — totals $10.6 million, while the newly-approved per-office budget for 25 councillors totals roughly $12 million. 

That suggests the new council's total staffing budget could be nearly $1.5 million more.

Councillors grappling with the changes are also pointing the finger at the premier for setting the city on its current path.

"Torontonians didn't ask for this; city council didn't ask for this," said Coun. Mike Layton. "It was forced upon us by a government with no attention to what Torontonians need and the level of customer service our offices can provide."

The budget debate, which focused on a city staff report that recommends "recalibrating" council's entire governance structure, also led to other changes.

Councillors voted in favour of an interim committee structure, which reduces the number of standing committees from seven down to four, focused on Economic and Community Development, General Government and Licensing, Infrastructure and Environment, and Planning and Housing.

Council also backed a staff recommendation to align community council boundaries with the borders outlined for the 47-ward model — the larger council size initially planned for the 2018 election after significant consultation, before the Ford government passed legislation to match the wards with federal and provincial ridings instead.

And more tweaks could be coming.

On Dec. 12, a new four-councillor striking committee — featuring Tory's picks, Coun. Frances Nunziata, Coun. Gary Crawford, Coun. Jaye Robinson and Coun. Stephen Holyday — will consider appointments and a meeting schedule for the new term.

One of their first tasks? Creating a special committee on governance, tasked with assessing how the city is faring in the 25-ward system and recommending any other changes to the governance structure.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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