By Kris Scheuer
Another stop on the gravy train has been eliminated: Mayor Rob Ford and council voted to cut office budgets.
The Dec. 16 vote was 40-5 in favour of reducing councillors’ expense accounts from $50,445 to $30,000.
But what does this mean for your local councillor?
Newbie St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow voted for the office budget reduction, but isn’t convinced $30,000 is the perfect allowance.
“It’s going to be tight if a councillor is one that believes in communicating with their ward,” Matlow said.
In the past, communications such as flyers and community newsletters have taken up a large chunk of councillors’ budget expenses.
But Matlow has alternate plans in mind: He said he may use volunteer high school students to deliver community notices in order to save on costs.
“Mayor Ford has suggested we may be able to put a (local) communication into the Our Toronto newsletter that goes out annually,” Matlow said, adding councillors’ will also need to make better use of electronic communications.
Matlow said he understands the budget slash is about setting a cost-cutting example.
“We are going to expect all our (city) departments to make sacrifices so we are going to be expected to do the same,” he said.
Matlow will also likely make do without a constituency office.
“I haven’t rushed to open a constituency office due to the fact I knew this conversation was going to take place at city hall,” he said.
He’s considering using space at a local library to meet with people, but is waiting for a city staff report due out in the spring.
Currently, councillors with constituency offices in the Scarborough, North York, East York and Etobicoke civic centres are charged for that space. City staff will report back in the new year on whether that city-owned space can be used rent-free.
St. Paul’s Councillor Joe Mihevc doesn’t have a community centre or civic centre in his Ward 21, so he wouldn’t benefit from that arrangement.
Despite the reduced budget, he’s keeping his storefront constituency office for now.
“It’s a core part of how we help and work for the community,” said the longtime rep. “I have to see what other allowances are permitted before finally deciding.”
In 2009 when the office budget maximum was $53,100 Mihevc spent almost $52,000. About $7,600 went to a constituency office.
Despite the fact that he voted in favour of the cut, Mihevc agreed with Matlow that communication with ward residents will pose a challenge.
He said there should be some flexibility for councillors to pay for extra communication during emergencies such as propane explosions in councillor Maria Augimeri’s ward or the G20 summit in councillor Adam Vaughan’s area.
“You need to communicate a lot in a short space of time,” he said and that costs extra money.
Other legitimate expenses also add up.
“I’m charged for my cellphone, community office phones, photocopying, a permit for a park (event), compost (for residents),” Mihevc said.
“While we need to be cost efficient, at the same we need to value the role councillors play in their community and allow them (money) to do that work.”
Slashing councillors’ budgets will save $899,580 annually.
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