Wasted Effort

June 5, 2012

$16.4 million.

According to the Globe and Mail’s John Lorinc, that was the “Total council cost (including mayor’s office)” to the city of Toronto in 2011.

$16.4 million.

Any way you want to parse that number it’s nothing but peanuts. As a percentage of the operating budget? Even rounding it down to the nearest billion which would be 9, $16.4 million works out to roughly .18%. Yeah, less than a fifth of a percent.

How about per population? Again, rounding it down to a workable round number like, say, 2.5 million, divided by 16.4 million comes to about 15 cents. That’s right. City council costs every man, woman and child in Toronto 15¢ per year. [Or, if you do the math properly, $6.56/Torontonian/year. Still a pretty sweet deal. h/t Mg]

Yet our deputy mayor, ostensibly the 2nd most powerful politician in the city, has spent what seems like an inordinate amount of time and energy in an attempt to reduce that number even further. To where, I wonder. What amount are we willing to give to our elected officials in order for them to govern the city? Are we looking for a corps of volunteers like the fire department of Councillor Holyday’s youthful days in Etobicoke? (I completely made that up. I have no idea if Etobicoke’s fired department was ever volunteer or, even, if our Deputy Mayor spent his youth there.) Or maybe, we want part time positions, no benefits; just dedicated folks coming in every now and then in between their other jobs in order to fill out the necessary paperwork.

If the city needs to be run like a business, doesn’t another shopworn cliché need to be trotted out? You get what you pay for.

Unsurprisingly, Deputy Mayor Holyday has run up against the stony wall of reality. New rules that he’s proposing to the Executive Committee this month “…would allow councillors to offload various costs, such as smartphone bills and office renovations, onto the general council budget,” Lorinc writes, “in effect freeing up more funds for other councillor office expenses.” Let the good times roll, folks. Bunny suits all round!

That’s right. In his search for further cuts to the ways councillors use their office expenses, the deputy mayor is, in fact, proposing to restore some of the cuts Mayor Ford made a successful campaign platform from. Could it be good sound bite politics that bash at the hornet’s nest of electorate anger turn out to be terrible policy ideas?

One of the items off the table for consideration, however, is any agreement to have the mayor sign off on councillor travel expenses. In his bid to rid the city of gravy, it seems the mayor thought it necessary for him to micromanage the oversight of $53,000. I’m not even going to bother to figure out that percentage of the operating budget, suffice it to say, it’s a ridiculously infinitesimal amount that would be a colossal waste of energy for a mayor of a major city to expend.

Of course, how long would it take for Mayor Ford to just rubber stand a ‘Denied’ across every request to reimburse travel expenses? We all know the mayor isn’t much of a traveller, except stateside for Florida jaunts and to take in NFL games. OK. There was that one time he went down to Mexico on official PanAm Games business but that was forced on him by the previous mayor.

If the mayor had his way, councillors would stay put here at home or pay for any trips on their own dime. It’s called city council for a reason. The city. Stay here. Do your job. There’s nothing to be gained, nothing to learn by spending your time elsewhere.

There’s certainly no need to be going to something like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference for example. That ‘lefty shmoozefest’ according to the Toronto Sun’s and Team Ford typist Sue-Ann Levy. Nearly one-quarter of Toronto councillors were in attendance when, surely, just Giorgio Mammoliti and an assistant to take notes and file a report would do.

What are other cities and their representatives going to tell Toronto that it doesn’t already know? Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. You need a weekend living large in Saskatoon to find that out?

Such continued myopia is a serious detriment to this city’s well-being. The mayor’s right hand man (or the mayor’s right hand man’s right hand man) is discovering the limits of cutting our way to fiscal health. Our structural deficit has little to do with bloat in the operating budget and everything to do with limited access to proper revenue tools outside of property taxes. Just like every other city in this province and in this country. Getting together at an annual conference to air out and hear ideas on how to go about fixing that can only help. Travel expenses for 11 councillors to attend is a very, very small price to pay.

But as we’re discovering, there is no price to pay that is too low to escape Mayor Ford’s notice. Every expenditure is suspect, every dollar must be contested. It gives the appearance of doing something substantive without really doing much at all.

on the cheaply submitted by Cityslikr