Who are Toronto council’s biggest and lowest spenders?
Travel to Hong Kong, gingerbread cookies and a toll road video highlight what the city’s politicians expense.
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A nearly $7,000 return trip to Hong Kong, $1,300 worth of gingerbread cookies and almost $5,000 for a video produced with factual errors on a road tolls plan that was quickly kiboshed are just some of the ways council members spent taxpayer money in 2016.
An overview of expenses claimed last year contain the usual free compost events, movie nights and snacks for residents, paid for out of a max $31,585.79 allowance for each councillor’s office. Other categories of expenses are paid for separately out of council’s general expense budget, including rent for constituency offices.
Mayor John Tory, whose larger office budget is approved by council, slashed his expenses nearly in half over last year from a total $103,319 to $56,581.
Included in this year’s expenses was printing of a special banner and sign used at a November speech announcing Tory’s decision to push for road tolls declaring: “Time to Build.”
By January, the province quickly decided it wouldn’t be so, with Premier Kathleen Wynne reversing her pledged support of that plan.
The big banner’s future uses remain undefined.
The mayor’s office also expensed $4,884 for a video produced by Octopus Ink advertising agency about the road tolls plan, one that had “laughably too many errors” on a rendering of a planned transit expansion map, transit advocate Steve Munro tweeted at the time.
Travel expenses added up for some councillors, including $6,893 on a trip to Hong Kong for Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33 Don Valley East). That was the second time Carroll had flown to Hong Kong in 2016, following a trade mission led by Tory in the spring.
Carroll told Torstar News Service she attended a conference for the pedestrian-centric Walk21 organization she said was focused on “urban transit development.” At the same time, Carroll said she was following up on the earlier trade mission.
“The second reason for travelling to this destination is to tour and learn more about a social enterprise called the Nesbitt Centre,” Carroll wrote in a letter attached to the expense claim. “The Nesbitts run a training institute for adults with developmental disabilities that uses both municipal partnerships and government permissions to operate social enterprises to employ their students.”
Though she was among the most frugal spenders in 2016 overall, Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence) expensed four nights at the five-star Carlton hotel in Tel Aviv at a nightly rate of $429 (CAD) per night and another three nights at The King David hotel in Jerusalem for $458 per night on a business mission with the mayor to Israel in November. In all she expensed $3,096.40 for accommodation for seven nights.
Councillor James Pasternak (Ward 10 York Centre), who went on the same trip but stayed only five nights, expensed hotels at nightly rates of $178 (CAD) and $104 for a total $742.
Carmichael Greb did not respond to a request for comment.
Top spending councillors, including Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt), saw a large chunk of expenses attributed to constituency office rents. In Karygiannis’ case $1,551 per month for a ground-floor space near Finch Ave. East and Kennedy Rd. His monthly rent was only bested by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti whose rent was 30 cents more per month.
Karygiannis said he wanted to negotiate a lower price, but that city staff warned he might put himself in a conflict.
The location is the same building where he had his office as a federal MP.
“People know where I am,” Karygiannis said being in the same building where he had an office as a federal MP. When asked if he considered a cheaper location, he said: “It’s probably the cheapest location there is.”
Other expenses added up for councillors in 2016. After spending $985 for gingerbread cookies for his annual “Cookies for Christmas” December event, Councillor Vincent Crisanti upped the sugar and spent $1,294 in 2016.