The 2015 budget process, Mammo's legal fees, and a waterfront lawsuit are just some of the items council will debate in the first session of the John Tory era.
It’s City Hall’s version of the first day of school, as councillors have their official portraits taken and attend their first regular meeting since breaking in August. The committees that send reports and recommendations to council haven’t been meeting since then, so the schedule this month is light. With that said, here are some items to watch for…
This will likely be the mayor’s key item (and thus the first to be debated) as it was an important part of Tory’s mayoral campaign.
Last week the mayor’s executive committee (the City Hall equivalent of a cabinet) unanimously supported Tory’s request for a $750,000 interim report on the planning, business case, and potential implementation schedule for SmartTrack. If council supports the report, it will go to the executive committee meeting on January 22, 2015—a quick turnaround for a study of this depth and scope.
Given that the regional rail proposal is central to Tory’s mandate, it’s unlikely he will face much opposition to a request for a study, but there are some questions that may be raised. The request sole sources the study to Strategic Regional Research Associates, a non-profit organization co-run by Metrolinx board member Iain Dobson. Dobson played a key role in the development of SmartTrack during Tory’s campaign and is also the co-owner of the commercial real estate consultancy Research Corp.
The request also singles out the University of Toronto to do additional research. U of T’s Eric Miller was one of the few experts to praise SmartTrack during the campaign, giving the proposal an “A+” in an appearance on Metro Morning.
Council will look at a series of motions related to the 2015 budget process. Included is the budget schedule. Key proposed dates are January 20, when the budget is to be unveiled to the public, and March 10, when the final council budget debate will take place.
Council will also look at the operating and capital variance reports. These quarterly check-ins show how the City is tracking for their budget projections. The City isn’t allowed to run a deficit, so the variances are usually positive by necessity. City staff sometimes achieve this by neglecting to fill vacant positions; other times they might receive an unexpected windfall from lower fuel costs or higher-than-expected revenues from certain line items.
This year’s operating surplus is $98.4 million, and it was achieved largely through unfilled staff vacancies and record land transfer tax revenues (and in spite of a huge drop in parking ticket revenue).
There appears to be resolution in the matter of the controversial highrise proposed for 245 College Street. The backers of the student rental housing building initially wanted 42 storeys just west of the Lillian H. Smith Library. After some negotiation and an OMB victory for developer Knightstone, the project will instead top out at 25 storeys (and will include 759 beds). It will not have parking for vehicles but will include 300 spots for bikes.
As part of their Section 37 negotiations for exceeding density requirements, the developer has agreed to contribute $1 million in local improvements. Half of the money is proposed to be allocated to TCHC housing units in Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina. Another $150,000 will be spent on a community garden at the Beverly Junior Public School, and $350,000 will be spent on streetscape improvements on Glasgow Street.
Once the Section 37 proposal passes—which it almost always does—the developer can proceed with its plans.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) has some chutzpah, and it will be on display again this council session. In July, council voted 37-2 to dock three months’ pay ($26,000) from the seven-term councillor—the most severe penalty that can be imposed upon those who violate council’s code of conduct. According to the integrity commissioner [PDF], Mammoliti held a red-carpet, $500-a-plate personal fundraiser that was attended by lobbyists and developers. The event raised $80,000, meaning Mammo wound up with a profit despite the penalty.
Mammoliti denies any wrongdoing in the event, and in an ongoing court case he sued the City to recover his docked pay. Council policy says the City will pay $20,000 of a councillor’s legal proceedings, but now Mammoliti’s legal bills are up to $48,000 and council must decide whether to waive its policy.
Mammoliti also faces an ongoing police investigation related to the case.
Council debates potential and ongoing lawsuits in camera (i.e., in private), so we don’t know much about this particular item. From the few details that are available, it would appear that six waterfront developers are suing the City over development charges and affordable housing agreements. We presume developers are not suing for more affordable housing and higher development charges, so we’ll see how this plays out.