I used to work at city hall, now I’m the Midtowner

[attach]4474[/attach]I’d like to introduce myself as a new columnist for the Town Crier. Some readers may know me from my years at city hall at the side of now-retired Ward 22 councillor Michael Walker, or as a candidate for city council last year. Now as a government relations consultant, I live in Hillcrest Village with my wife, Elizabeth and our two young sons, Jack and Teddy. We love it in Midtown — the people, the parks and community centres, the restaurants and shops, the transit, the schools, the closeness to the downtown, the neighbourhoods and the trees (hopefully not too many are Ash trees that need to be cut because of the Ash Borer problem — eight percent of the city’s canopy will be cut down soon…).

I’m proud to be a Torontonian and like many of you, work toward making it an even better place to be. Over the years, it seems to me that the city government has been good at making plans, but not so good at responsibly working those plans on behalf of its citizens as other world-class cities have been. So to help push the discussion on key problems, I’ve jumped at the chance to add my voice to your local tribune, the Town Crier, and I hope you are engaged by the topics I explore.

With a focus on Midtown, this column will discuss how we live where we live — and how we can make it better.

At the top of my mind this month is the city budget. We pay our fair share of property taxes and user fees in Midtown and North Toronto so naturally we’re concerned; if the budget flounders, we can feel the hikes and cuts to correct it.

We’ve all heard about the gap in the city’s operating budget. After collecting all the property taxes, funding from other levels of government and revenue from fees, the city still can’t pay for $774 million worth of services, salaries and benefits, debt payments and ongoing infrastructure maintenance costs. This structural deficit is a perennial hangover from amalgamation and it won’t go away without new solid arrangements with the federal and provincial governments.

I’m shocked that this city council has not adopted an edict to freeze all the salaries of the mayor and councillors, all employees, including its agencies, boards and commissions. As it is widely recommended, city council needs to set the tone for the next round of negotiated settlements with all its unions, as well as for any arbitration involved. Without taking the salary cut themselves, how can city council expect city employees to accept salary cuts in negotiations? The persuasive moral high-ground is lost before the talks even begin — and positioning is vitally important to negotiations.

Freezing salaries for council members may amount to a couple hundred thousand in savings but achieving a freeze on all the employees the city pays amounts to hundreds of millions. The savings are achievable by using the right strategy. Unfortunately, by using a tried but losing strategy, city council is raising salaries for the police and this raise, 11 percent over three years or $40 million more each year, will be echoed by all the upcoming labour negotiations. Most of the city’s budget is salaries and it’s where the budget quietly gets out of control, compounded year after year.

Any Midtowner will tell you we end up paying more for less, like we have been since amalgamation. Freezing salaries is one way to reign in the budget and stop this vicious cycle.

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One thought on “I used to work at city hall, now I’m the Midtowner

  • With all due respect to Mr. Sellors, he could use some writing lessons. The column was hard to read as it went all over the place with too many thoughts and directions. It was poorly written in general. More importantly though, I was amazed that the Town Crier would publish a column that would misinform its readers. I distinctly recall city councillors and the mayor freezing their salaries this year. Just check the facts.

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