In one week, we’ve had a councillor under fire for charging taxpayers for the furry, costumed friends at his annually subsidized icecapades, and a TTC chairman who asked us to pay for his joyride…but one that certainly wasn’t on the rocket. How nice.
With 44 councillors each owning expense budgets with an annual maximum of $53,100, potentially totalling a cool $2.33-million, who knows what other gems remain uncovered. But one thing is for sure – they exist and they are ridiculous.
Let me first say that I don’t actually have a problem with Councillor Heaps expensing $439 on animal costume rentals. The councillor used taxpayer money to attract his Ward’s residents (children, in particular) to an annual community event. If you feel it is a frivolous event, fair enough. But it certainly isn’t scandalous (Heaps ranks 16th overall in office expenses, so whether there is a systemic frivolity here, that’s another matter).
My main issue with expense items is when there is evidence of deceitful, fraudulent, or selfish behavior that speaks to the integrity of the elected official.
Unfortunately, the answer here is not to focus further on what gets expensed – it’s a tangled, messy web that the Clerk’s office, and skilled journalists, already navigate through as best as possible. Not to mention, the ironically inefficient 66-page document that sets out what can and can’t be expensed leaves much to interpretation. Instead, the answer is to drastically cut the budgets so that councillors no longer have the ability to take these liberties.
To agree with this, you have to first agree that the budgets are set extraordinarily too high. The goal here is not to prevent a councillor from doing valid city business, but rather to ensure it is done appropriately and efficiently. Withiout a doubt in my mind, a smaller budget would result in councillors reducing their self-promoting pamphlets (green movement, anyone?), think twice before making $500 donations to community groups (yes, this is actually allowed), and provide a stark realization that there’ll be a negligible effect on their office’s ability to operate.
The city already cut office expense budgets by a whopping 5%. What I propose is to add a "0" on to that – let’s cut it in half, from $53,100 to $26,550. A full quarter of the councillors (11 in total) operate with budgets below that already, including some of the most respected and accomplished ones in the bunch (the bar is not set high, but still). Should a councillor reach that peak and require further funding, they can apply for access to a reserve managed by the City Clerk’s office, ensuring the expense is deemed pertinent.
It’s time to treat taxpayer money responsibly, and we can start by cutting the expense budgets by $1.16-million. Unless, of course, it really is that easy to "find" $100-million laying around…sigh…