Minnan-Wong will work with budget cuts

Don Valley East reps are optimistic about the slashed budgets and looking for free space for offices

Another stop on the gravy train has been eliminated as 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 a maximum of $30,000.

So how will your local councillor spend their dollars this year?

Don Valley East councillors Shelley Carroll and Denzil Minnan-Wong are both middle of the road spenders. In 2009 when office allowances were $53,100, Carroll spent just over $36,500 and Minnan-Wong tallied up about $37,000 in expenses.

Both reps expensed $4,800 for was a constituency office in the North York Civic Centre. In the spring, staff will report back on whether constituency offices in civic centres could be free.

Either way, Minnan-Wong said he isn’t too worried. He said his ward is half way between North York Civic Centre and city hall, so it’s equally inconvenient for constituents to meet at either place.

“I set up shop in a coffee shop and meet with anyone who wants to come by,” he said.

Minnan-Wong is optimistic he can work with the new spending limit. “We’ll try and do more with less,” he said.

Carroll agrees. And, she knows about managing budgets.

“I had to set an example, especially in the second term when I was budget chief,” she said.

One way she cut costs was by not renting a storefront constituency office because rents are typically high in Ward 33.

Her office also kept costs down by communicating via email rather than costly newsletters, which some councillors print and distribute door-to-door.

“People communicating with their government electronically, that’s the key to saving money,” she said, adding she will send printed material to people without computer access.

One expense she won’t cut is her staff of three. She vows to fight any reduction in councillors’ staffing if that allotment is reduced in the city’s overall 2011 budget.

“Staff in my office, if they are reduced … that will be a really big issue to me,” Carroll said. “They are a service and I would deem that a customer service cut.”

“You need to be in three or four places at one time,” she said of her staff who attend meetings on her behalf while she attends others.
Councillor John Filion was one of the few who voted against the office budget reduction.

“I have 100,000 constituents and 42,000 households. The (city) average is around 62,000 residents and 25,000 households,” Filion said.

It costs more to communicate with additional people, said Filion, who spent almost $49,000 of his office budget in 2009.

Ford campaigned to cut councillors’ budgets by citing anomalies, like politicians paying for bunny suits for parades or farewell parties.

“The solution would have been to change the rules, not cut the budget,” said Filion.

Over in St. Paul’s, Newbie councillor Josh Matlow voted for the 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,” said Matlow, rep for St. Paul’s Ward 22.

He may use volunteer high school students to deliver community notices 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.

He’s no stranger to social networking such as Facebook and Twitter and said email can also be a cost-effective way to communicate.

“We should make better use of electronic communications and then perhaps send out paper flyers to those who we know are not signed up electronic databases,” Matlow said.

It’s about setting a cost-costing 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.

One of the things Matlow will likely do without is 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,” Matlow said.

Matlow is considering using space at a local library to meet with people.

About this article:

By: Kris Scheuer
Posted: Jan 10 2011 1:50 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto