Staff are recommending that city council adopt an interim committee structure that is modeled on the one used in previous terms while also striking a special committee to take a closer look at governance matters arising from the provincial government’s decision to slash the size of council.

A report that will be considered at the first meeting of council next week proposes an interim structure for committees and community councils that is “closely modelled” on the previous structure while being “recalibrated” for 26 members of council (including the mayor) rather than 45.

That would mean that the four community councils that make recommendations on planning and development matters and have final say on some by-law matters would consist of five to eight members each rather than 10 to 12 members each in the last term of council.

The number of standing committees that report to city council would also be reduced from seven to four, with each consisting of six members of council. The newly merged committees would include community and economic development, general government and licensing, infrastructure and environment and planning and housing.

The mayor’s executive committee would also be trimmed down from 13 members to eight. Similar cuts would 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.

As well, the number of seats set aside for members of council on dozens of agencies and boards would be reduced by one or two council members while the requirement for a member of council to sit on a number of other boards and agencies would be scrapped entirely. 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, even those held behind closed doors.

The report says that the interim changes are necessary to allow council to function properly. It says that if changes are not made the 25 members of council would hold 97 seats on 14 different committees as well as 388 seats on 170 agencies and boards.

That would create a situation where members of council would experience difficulty attending meetings which would in turn impair “the ability of committees and boards to function effectively,” the report warns.

“I just got the report last night but I think the staff have done a very good job in recommending ways in which you can take all the sane responsibilities, everything from licensing and standards, to housing, to planning, to you name it, and have fewer elected officials addressing those same responsibilities,” Mayor John Tory said of the recommendations at an event on Wednesday morning. “That means we will have fewer committees and we will have more work to be done by the people on those committees but by and large I think they have done a very thoughtful job in putting some recommendations forward.”

Office and staffing budgets could be increased

Some members of council have spoken of the need for increased office and staffing budgets to respond to an increase in the average size of municipal wards from about 62,000 residents to nearly 110,000.

The report does not make any recommendations on whether to increase the size of office and staffing budgets from the current standard of $241,000 but it does lay out three options for councillors to consider.

If the status quo was kept in place and staffing budgets remained at $241,000 per councillor and office budgets stayed at $34,000 per councillor it would result in $7.42 million in savings in 2019 due to the smaller size of council. But the report says that council could also opt to take the existing office and staffing budgets for 44 councillors and redistribute it among the 25 councillors, which would see staffing budgets go up to $424,000 and office budgets increase to $61,000. Finally, the report says that council could double the salary and staffing budgets in recognition of the fact that the size of most wards has been roughly doubled. That would bump the staffing budgets to $482,000 and the office budgets to $69,000 and would carry an additional cost to taxpayers of $.1.12 million.

Premier Doug Ford has previously contended that by slashing the size of council would save taxpayers $25 million over four years but on Wednesday afternoon he seemed to back away from that, telling reporters at Queen’s Park that his main reason for slashing the size of city council was a desire to improve the decision making at city hall.

“It was totally dysfunctional and nothing could get done so we are actually going to get things done and run things more efficiently,” he said. “Good governance at any board or at any corporation says no more than seven to nine people. You can have the brightest and the best 20 people around the table but it won’t run as efficiently as seven to nine people.”

Ford was asked council whether the reduction in the size of city council would be rendered moot if office and salary budgets are increased accordingly but replied that “they should be able to save millions tens of millions on efficiencies.”

For his part, Tory told reporters that some extra resources will likely be required to ensure that the service provided to residents remains the same.

“I will just say this: the number of people being served has not changed. They are still out there and they still need customer service. There are now fewer people to serve them so I think those people will at least need the same amount of help that will allow them to provide the same amount of service, if not better,” Tory said. “There are some options presented in the report for members of council to consider. I just know that the service requirements have not gone down and therefore we need proper resources in place to make sure we can still serve people properly in the City of Toronto.”

Special committee will examine governance process

The recommendations in the report will still have to be approved by two-thirds of city council to be enacted, since they concern governance matters.

It is also possible that further changes will be made down the line at the recommendation of a special committee that the report says should be formed to further explore governance matters.

That committee would consist of the mayor and four members of city council and would be responsible for considering “the impacts on the city's governance structure and processes arising from the reduction in the size of council,” according to the report.