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Shrunken Toronto council boosts office budgets to cope with expanded wards

Shrunken Toronto council boosts office budgets to cope with expanded wards
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Toronto city councillors have boosted their budgets for support staff and office expenses to serve new wards expanded and roughly doubled in population by Premier Doug Ford’s government.

Councillors also started the wheels in motion to review their own $111,955 salaries amid differing opinions on whether bigger wards and increased workload merit more pay.

The moves were the first order of real business for a council controversially shrunk in midelection to 25 wards. Last term there were 44 wards. Council had voted, after a lengthy review that included a consultant report and public consultations, to swell to 47 wards to deal with growing population.

Council voted 18-8 Wednesday to double each councillor’s annual budget for office staff to $482,000 from the current $241,000, usually for three employees. The hike was the highest of three options .

Councillor Paul Ainslie’s motion, beating more expensive and cheaper proposals, is the right amount to “look after our residents in a meaningful manner,” he told reporters after the vote.

He scoffed at arguments from Ford that simply cutting the size of council — a move the city is challenging in court — would yield $25 million in savings over four years for Toronto taxpayers.

“If you’re reducing the number of councillors, fine, but doubling the size of our wards? The number one thing I heard from my (Ward 24 Scarborough-Guildwood) residents when I was knocking on doors (during the fall election) was ‘How are you going to get back to us, are you going to get back to us?’” Ainslie said.

Councillor Stephen Holyday failed in a 6-20 vote to increase the staffing budget to only $361,500, and to freeze the office budget. Mayor John Tory was among the supporters, but he also later voted with Ainslie for more generous increases.

“I’d prefer to live within our means ... it’s not councillors’ money,” Holyday (Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre) told colleagues, describing his own proposal as “a modest and humble approach of moving forward.”

Others criticized his proposal as ignoring differing workloads for offices like his, serving a suburban ward with very little development, and others, primarily downtown, with dozens of major building proposals. Some noted that councillors are free to underspend their budget.

Council also approved, in a 18-8 vote, tasking city manager Chris Murray with reviewing councillors’ salaries and, by spring, recommending “an appropriate level of compensation” with advice from one or more outside experts.

Ainslie said “there’s been some talk about because we now have the same size wards as MPs and MPPs that maybe we should be making the equivalent salaries of the other two levels” of government.

Regular MPPs earn $116,500 per year. Base salary for their federal counterparts is $157,731.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis, who wanted to increase council office budgets more than a majority of his colleagues, vehemently rejected the idea of boosting councillors’ pay.

“I signed on to do the work, I have staff now that will be supporting me, I don’t think I deserve, or I need, or I must get, an increase in salary,” he told reporters.

Councillors also approved Tory’s choice of four suburban conservative council allies to the committee that will recommend who will sit on four main new city committees, merged from the previous seven.
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