Mixed Reactions From Common Council About 'New Deal' For Saint John

Posted on Monday, February 12, 2018 23:52 PM

Cuts to Saint John's police and fire departments in this year's budget could soon be reversed, according to Mayor Don Darling.

The city received a "new deal" from the province last week, including up to $22.8 million over three years to address its structural deficit — if it's needed.

Darling believes the deal is contingent on minimizing front-line impacts, but the city wants to consult with the province to ensure they're on the same page.

"There's going to be a bit of fine tuning, sending it back to our finance committee, which is appropriate, and that's my understanding is that, from a front-line service perspective, that'll restore police and fire and recreation," says Darling.

Darling says the money will also give the city some breathing room to have serious conversations about its sustainability moving forward.

While the mayor calls it a "good deal" for Saint John, others like councillor David Merrithew say it comes with "tremendous" risk and "scares the bejesus" out of him.

He says if nothing is done to help grow the city's economy, it could have an even bigger deficit once the provincial money runs out.

"We wake up, two years and 364 days from now, and we don't solve this, we'll have a structural deficit of 12, 14, 15 million dollars — so big that your 2021 budget couldn't be rightsized without a tax increase," says Merrithew.

Councillor Blake Armstrong says there might be risks, but this is the first government he can remember that's offered to help Saint John.

"We are the industrial city of New Brunswick and we built New Brunswick," says Armstrong." Saint John tax dollars have built New Brunswick for 60 years because we hold the industrial base, so everybody in the province owes a little debt to Saint John, in my eyes, because we gave the most to build it."

Councillor Gary Sullivan says despite the short-term financial relief, council needs to keep looking for improvement and maintain the fiscal restrain they've started to show.

Fellow councillor Donna Reardon says the deal is about more than just money — it's a chance for the city bring up other topics like amalgamation and fair taxation.

A working committee made up of city and provincial staff will monitor the initiatives and report back to council by January 2019.