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Newsstand: April 30, 2014

We've already reached the end of April. Hopefully this means it's safe to remove our snow tires. In the news: Olivia Chow and Karen Stintz talk transit funding, the construction at Union Station is not going all that smoothly, and the creative expense claims of TDSB trustees.

matt newsstand gull

Yesterday, mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and Karen Stintz unveiled their plans for funding transit in Toronto. In a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Chow said her administration would cancel the Scarborough subway extension in favour of building an LRT line, using the previously approved property-tax hike and investment from both the provincial and federal government. Further investment from higher levels of government also factors into Chow’s plans to generate $1 billion to fund repairs on existing TTC infrastructure and begin to lay the groundwork for a downtown relief line in the future.

Stintz also made a downtown relief line a priority in her transit plans. She wants to raise a $1.6-billion transit fund over the next 15 years using initiatives that include the sale of 51 per cent of Toronto Hydro shares held by the City, and a $3 parking increase at all downtown Green P parking lots. Stintz says the downtown relief line is part of her big-picture strategy to deal with traffic congestion, which would also include road repair and plans to fix the Gardiner Expressway.

In December, a City of Toronto staff report called the expansion and revitalization of Union Station one of the most complicated projects in the country—complicated enough that the City has had to hire not one, but two consulting firms to rein in the ballooning construction cost of the $795-million undertaking. According to City documents obtained by the Toronto Star, Carillon Canada—the company contracted in 2010 to rebuild Union Station—may be fired at the end of this year over ongoing problems with its management of timelines and budgets. Documents reveal that in the spring of 2013 the City expected 12 structural columns to be laid in accordance with Carillon’s timelines, but only two were actually completed. While some delays have been resolved, revised construction schedules are incomplete, omitting dates for the construction of a connection to the northwest PATH system, which the City had identified as a priority. Carillon’s oversight of its $495-million portion of the project budget has also seen costs jump $80 million over budget, as was revealed last fall. City officials maintain that past or current delays will not result in pushing pack the scheduled 2016 reopening of the transit hub; however, it remains to be seen whether the Metrolinx plan to open the new York Street concourse at the end of this year will actually happen.

An internal audit of expenses reported by Toronto District School Board trustees from 2010 to 2014 reveals questionable discretionary spending and a lack of expense policy oversight in advance of a vote later today on how the board processes expense claims. Some of the TDSB’s 22 trustees claimed excessive expenses including cell phone bills with premium ringtones, and promotional text message subscriptions. Travel expenses were often found to be inflated, with one trustee claiming nine days of hotel and travel expenses for a three-day conference, and five trustees claiming travel expenses for a meeting they did not attend. Either TDSB trustees have a case of collective amnesia and cannot remember what conferences they attend, nor how long they were there for, or something is a little lax with their accounting practices. While the report reveals that, on average, each trustee spent less than the allotted amount of $27,000 per year, it recommends establishing clearer guidelines for expenses, better record-keeping practices, and more economical travel expenditures.

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