Saint John heritage area

Saint John has one of the largest heritage preservation areas in Canada. (Courtesy of City of Saint John)

The City of Saint John has increased the amount property owners can collect in heritage grants.

Conservation grants will jump to a maximum of $7,500, up from $5,000.

Meanwhile, maintenance grants are going up by 50 per cent to $750.

Coun. Donna Reardon, who is council's representative on the heritage development board, says the new grant structure and plans to streamline the application process will spur heritage development in the city.

"Just the fact that you're going to get your money within 60 days [instead of waiting until late December], I think it's all an improvement. I think it's going to work well," she said.

Another change is that applicants will no longer have to wait for a heritage development board meeting to be approved for a heritage grant.

Heritage grants are intended to assist owners to retain traditional materials and details of character-defining elements of their properties and, if necessary, replace them with new components, matching the original materials and profiles.

The previous system wasn't working, said Reardon. In 2013, only 30 per cent of the available grant money was paid out, she said.

The overall pool of heritage money will not increase under the new plan. It remains at $90,000.

More changes coming

In 2012, the heritage grant budget was cut by $110,000 as grant funding ratios were changed as council struggled with the pension deficit and construction development was slowing.

"While it would have been a suitable funding mix with the past economic and staffing conditions given the available budget, it turned out to be unsuitable for the events of 2012 and 2013," a staff report submitted to council on Monday night states.

Last year, city staff hired Deloitte to conduct a best practice review and identify areas for improvement.

The changes are intended to "provide real financial incentive for property owners to undertake necessary maintenance projects and encourage restoration rather than replacement," the report states.

"Staff and the board recognize the cost burden of restoration work, and that this work requires experienced tradespeople and costly materials," it states.

"Increasing the funding ratios and caps will provide larger awards on an individual basis, while working within the same annual budget."

Additional improvements to the program are still being researched and are expected to be implemented on Jan. 1, 2015.