City council has voted in favour of doubling the staffing budgets for individual members, effectively wiping out the millions in savings that Premier Doug Ford had claimed would be created as a result of his decision to slash the number of wards.

In an 18-8 vote on Wednesday afternoon, council opted to increase the 2019 staffing budget for its members to $482,000 from $241,000. The office spending budgets for members of council was also increased, going to $50,000 from $34,000. Mayor John Tory did vote in favour of the budget hikes though a number of councillors that usually vote with him, including Jaye Robinson and Denzil Minnan-Wong, did not.

All told, the decisions will mean that the $25 million in savings over four years that Premier Doug Ford had promised as part of his move to reduce the size of council will not fully materialize.

“When Premier Doug Ford told the people of Ontario that there would be $25 million in savings to cut council roughly in half it was never true. There was never going to be $25 million in savings and that is just a fact,” Ward 12 Toronto St Paul’s Josh Matlow said during Wednesday’s debate. “What has happened now is that we are going to need more staff to be able to respond to our constituents because we are going to be busier in both having to address the needs and priorities of double the population but also spending more times sitting at these committees.”

Staff provided three different options for budgets

Staff had put forth three different options on where to set the staffing and office budgets for this term of council in a report that was tabled during Wednesday’s meeting.

The report said that council could keep staffing budgets where they were, which would have resulted in $7.42 million in savings in 2019. The other two options, meanwhile, involved either redistributing the money that was set aside for the 44 members of council during the last term or doubling the budgets in recognition of wards being roughly doubled in size to an average of 110,000 residents.

It should be noted that Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre Coun. Stephen Holyday did put forward another option, calling for staffing budgets to be increased by 50 per cent to $361,500 and office budgets to remain at $34,000, but that idea did not gain widespread support.

“I was a little confused when I read the table in this report where it gave us the three options and two of the three options were dividing up the leftover money and all I could think of was the Romans coming in after and dividing the spoils of war amongst the people,” Holyday said during the meeting. “I understand the temperature of council and think council is looking for a significant increase in budget. I will submit to this council that 1.5 times your current office budget is an enormous increase and it allows you to hire one or maybe two additional constituency assistants.”

Staff have said that the previous staffing budget was based on the cost of hiring one executive assistant, one constituency assistant and one administrative assistant at the top end of the salary range for those positions.

Addressing council Holyday said that he had a “philosophical” problem with automatically doubling the staffing budgets for councillors just because the size of their wards have increased.

Some councilors, however, said that they would be unable to properly serve constituents unless they are able to significantly increase their staffing levels.

Ward 17 Don Valley North Coun. Shelley Carroll said that doubling the staffing budgets would help to address the range of workloads in different wards with different levels of development. She said that some councillors in large downtown wards will now have 50 or 60 active development applications and will need extra resources to deal with them while councillors in other wards may be able to get by with less.

“Those of you who don’t spend the full envelope will get a gold star in the Toronto Sun every year. Good for you,” she quipped.

Ward 13 Toronto Centre Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam also spoke in favour of doubling staffing budgets during the meeting. She said that her ward, which includes much of the downtown core, is growing at a rate that is 341 per cent higher than the average municipal ward and also has a disproportionate share of social challenges, including 31 per cent of all shelter beds and 34 per cent of harm reduction sites.

“This work is happening in Ward 13 because it is not happening in North York or Etobicoke,” she said.

Council approves changes to committee structure

In addition to changes to the office and staffing budgets, council also voted in favour of a number of other structural changes that are required in the wake of Ford’s decision to reduce the number of wards.

Those changes will see council adopt an interim committee structure that is closely modeled on the one used in previous terms while also striking a special committee to take a closer look at governance matters.

As a result, the number of standing committees that report to city council will be reduced from seven to four, with each consisting of six members. The mayor’s executive committee will also be trimmed down from 13 members to eight while similar cuts will likewise be made to the size of other key decisions making bodies at city hall, including the budget committee, the audit committee, the civic appointments committee and the striking committee.

Meanwhile, the number of council representatives required to sit on a myriad of external boards and agencies will either be reduced or, in some cases, eliminated altogether. In those cases, the report recommends that the local councillor for the ward where the facility or organization is located be entitled to attend meetings as a voting member.

Council will return next Thursday, by which point Mayor John Tory is expected to have announced the appointments to his executive committee.