The city budget chief is warning that a by-election to fill Rob Ford's seat could cost twice as much as previously reported.
On Thursday Councillor Mike Del Grande, chair of the budget committee, pegged the cost of electing a new mayor at up to $15 million, more than double previous estimates of $7 million. Del Grande said that the expense could necessitate a 2.6 per cent property tax increase next year, instead of the 1.95 per cent hike being planned for 2013.
A by-election early next year is far from assured. Rob Ford is appealing the November 26 conflict of interest ruling that ordered him out of office, and even if he's unsuccessful, council could opt to appoint a replacement rather than send Torontonians to the polls.
There appears to be agreement among most councillors that a by-election would be preferable to an appointment, but Del Grande, who often admonishes colleagues for not paying attention to the city's bottom line, depicted as irresponsible any speculation about a 2013 vote that doesn't factor in the cost.
"Talk is cheap. But then you've got to pay for it. After all the talk is done, you've got to pay for it," Del Grande said.
"You'd have to find [the money] one way or another, because it's just not in the cards, it's not there."
The budget chief doesn't dispute the city clerk's base figure of $7 million, but reached his higher estimate by adding the cost of campaign contribution rebates and the expense of holding a ward by-election should a sitting councillor win a hypothetical mayoral race.
To encourage campaign donations, the city gives rebates to residents of up to 75 per cent per contribution. During the 2010 election, those rebates cost the city around $2.4 million, according to city clerk Ulli Watkiss, but that was over a campaign that was nearly a year long. A by-election campaign would last only 45 days.
A ward by-election could only come about if a councillor were to win a mayoral by-election. In that case, council could call a vote in order to fill the vacated ward seat, but could also appoint a replacement. Del Grande didn't provide a specific dollar amount when asked what he thought the price tag of a ward by-election would be.
Watkiss, the city clerk, rejected Del Grande's $15-million estimate on Thursday.
"I don't know where $15 million came from," she said in an interview.
She sticks by her $7-million figure, which she says goes to pay for 1,700 polling stations, voting equipment, ballots, and election staff.
"I think that's very accurate. That's what it costs to run a city-wide by-election," she said.
Councillor Adam Vaughan also slammed Del Grande's estimate as out of proportion. He said that the city wouldn't be faced with these kind of questions if the mayor hadn't run afoul of conflict of interest law.
"It's why the reckless behaviour of asking lobbyists for money while they have business in front of council is such a poor, poor and terrible, terrible thing to do," Vaughan said. "If the mayor had just simply followed the rules, we wouldn't have to have this debate about the rules."
At a February council meeting, Ford voted on an item that reversed an earlier decision requiring him to repay $3,150 he had solicited from lobbyists for his football charity. Last month a judge ruled that by doing so Ford had violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, and ordered him removed from office.
Ford won a stay of the judge's decision on Wednesday, and a three-judge panel will hear his appeal on January 7. A final decision is expected weeks after that, and if Ford is tossed council will have 60 days to decide whether to call a by-election or appoint a replacement.