Cuts to fire and police services proposed in Saint John's draft budget
Association head representing firefighters says cuts could result in fewer stations
Saint John common council released its 2018 Draft Operating Budget Friday, and the association representing local firefighters says planned cuts to public safety services will likely mean one of the municipality's seven fire stations will have to close.
"This is a very hard day for us as firefighters," said Peter Alexander, president of the Saint John Firefighters Association. "As strong characters, even us can get disheartened."
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The draft budget projects a revenue drop of more than $2.5 million compared to last year.
To try to make up for that shortfall, there's a $2.5 million reduction in the amount of money allocated to protective services, split equally between police and fire services.
Cuts means fewer firefighters
Both groups are in the midst of contract negotiations with the city right now. Their cases have gone to arbitration, with discussions with fire services beginning this week.
Alexander says it costs about $1.6 million per year to run a single fire station, so cutting $1.25 million from the fire services budget means one of the community stations likely won't survive.
"When we hear someone say, 1.2 million bucks, we go, 'that's firefighters.'"
"None of us know for sure," he said. "Besides an educated guess."
The union representing police says for them, these cuts will likely mean cutting from the force any new officers hired since 2011 not protected by contracts.
Both police and fire services are deemed essential, so neither group can strike.
However Alexander said they are supposed to receive fair negotiations, which he feels are lacking.
Mayor stands his ground
Bundled up in his bright blue jacket, Mayor Don Darling stands in front of City Hall ready to take on whatever criticism blows his way and to defend his position: the city needs to make cuts.
The city is more than $205 million in debt, he said.
Although union representatives may say these cuts leave Saint Johners at a higher risk of danger, the mayor said the current financial situation can't be ignored either.
"We identified there'd be an impact, likely to response times," he said. "We'd leave it to the chiefs to discuss operational impacts (and) whether that's a station or not."
The draft budget will officially be presented to council Monday.
"We have to cut $5 million a year for the next three years to even survive," the mayor said.
"Let's make sure we're on a sustainable path or we'll implode this city."