Citizens target Saint John fire service for cuts

Residents on Saint John's west side pointed to the city's fire department as a place for potential budget cuts during a public meeting on Tuesday.

West side residents point to fire department as a place to reduce spending

Saint John citizens singled the city’s fire department out as the preferred service to face cuts in the 2013 budget during a public meeting on Tuesday night.

Thirty-two residents on the city’s west side turned up at a pre-budget meeting to voice their concerns with the city’s finances.

The city gave the citizens a chance to have a direct vote on the local services they are satisfied with and the areas they would like to see budget cuts.

Citizens were given handheld devices to answer questions on their opinions regarding city spending on items, such as transit, sidewalks and emergency services.

Only 16 per cent of people at the meeting indicated they were satisfied with the fire department, which is usually cited as the most popular city service.

At the public meeting, 81 per cent of respondents said either the city should look for a new model or should cut the fire department's $22-million budget and reduce the service.

John Campbell was among the citizens who participated in the event and who raised questions about the fire department’s spending.

"If we're costing 30 per cent more than most fire departments across the country then we've got to be asking our management team what is happening here?" Campbell said.

The councillors also heard from citizens who were calling on the city to manage all services, including fire protection, better.

Kirby Lucas said many other city departments can also be better run by city staff.

"Most people are saying, ‘Run things better,’" Lucas said.

"Sure we don't like the taxes but we're stuck with them right now. But make more efficient use of the money that's going in."

Citizens surveyed

The citizens were given the handheld units so they could vote on a series of questions posed by the city.

There were two separate votes relating to the fire and rescue service. 

In the first survey, 16 per cent said they were satisfied with the fire service.

Meanwhile, three per cent of respondents indicated they would increase the fire service, 31 per cent wanted its budget reduced and 50 per cent want city to look at another model for delivering the fire service.

In a separate vote residents were asked, "Which service would you most like to see a reduction in service that would result in savings?"

The fire department was the clear choice as 77 per cent indicated they would prefer cuts to the fire department, followed by the solid waste commission (13 per cent), police services (seven per cent), drinking water (six per cent) and roads (three per cent).

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said he hopes people will take the time to turn up at the three remaining public meetings.

"We want to be reflecting very accurately what the community is saying, so my personal hope is that we see lots and lots of people turn out at these events," he said.

A second budget consultation meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Lorne Middle School.