(Written for Town Crier Dec. 17)
Another stop on the gravy train has been eliminated as Mayor Rob Ford and council voted on Dec. 16 to cut councillor office budgets by over $20,000.
The vote was 40–5 in favour of reducing the expense accounts from $50,445 to $30,000, which will save a total of $899,580 a year.
“This reduction is highly symbolic of the will of Toronto city council to listen to the voice of the public and demonstrate leadership in fiscal restraint and respect for the taxpayer,” said Ford in a statement.
In 2009, when the office budget maximum was $53,100, Councillor John Parker was near the top that year, but voted to reduce the amount to $30,000.
One thing he’ll no longer be able to afford is his constituency office on Laird Drive, which cost over $7,000 in 2009 but he’s not mourning that loss.
“I live in the ward, so my front door is my constituency office,” he told theTown Crier. “It was more productive and satisfactory for me to meet with them in their homes, offices, factories.”
Another big cost for councillors’ is designing, producing and distributing newsletters to constituents. In Parker’s case, a newsletter, plus flyers, meeting notices, photocopying, postage and so forth ate up over $18,000.
“If we can coordinate sending out our ward newsletter with the material the city sends out, we can help each other with distribution costs,” said Parker.
Don Valley East rep Denzil Minnan-Wong said it’s about setting an example because all city departments will be asked to trim costs to balance the 2011 budget.
“We’ll have to do more with less,” said Minnan-Wong, who meets constituents in coffee shops. “We are trying to show leadership by example.”
North York rep John Filion, who was one of five councillors who voted against the cost-cutting proposal, said he needs the resources to adequately communicate with his residents.
“I have 100,000 constituents and 42,000 households. The (city) average is around 62,000 residents and 25,000 households,” Filion said.
Filion spent $48,798.42 from his 2009 office budget on a constituency office and staff and sending out notices.
While Ford campaigned on cutting councillors’ budgets by citing the abnormalities like politicians paying for bunny suits for parades or farewell parties Filion said that simply cutting the amount councillor can spend isn’t the right way to change the system.
“There was a lot of attention to office budget abuses, but there’s 45 of us and now everyone is paying the price because (former councillor) Kyle Rae spent $12,000 he shouldn’t have on a farewell party,” Filion said. “The solution would have been to change the rules not cut the budget.
“He (Ford) also ran on a campaign of customer service. He cut my customer service (budget),” said Filion.
City staff will report back in the new year on some flexibility for councillors with more populated wards and about the possibility of allowing for free office space in city civic centres.
(I wrote several different versions of this story. For quotes and analysis on councillors Josh Matlow and Joe Mihevc, click here. For a story focused on councillors Gord Perks and John Filion, click here. And for a version with Councillor Karen Stintz, see the link here.)