Saint John's mayor and councillors are refusing to discuss the details of a confidential meeting held last Wednesday. ((CBC))

Saint John Mayor Ivan Court is refusing to discuss a confidential meeting held last week but  the unscheduled gathering was meant to focus on the city's worsening financial situation.

When asked on Monday night, Court wouldn't comment on what was discussed at the private meeting with city councillors.

"I can't tell you anything at all, that's why it's called confidential," Court said.

News of that meeting last Wednesday came to light at Monday night's regular council session during discussion about the purchase of six, previously approved, city trucks.

While the city's mayor isn't talking about the meeting, several councillors offered hints at what was at the heart of the talks.

'We had a closed-door session last week that … I'm pretty nervous about, if we don't get a handle on that.' — Coun. Bill Farren

Coun. Bruce Court first raised the subject of the closed-door meeting and offered some insight into the nature of the previously secret talks.

"We had a closed-door meeting. And can't say what it is, but I'm concerned whether we might have some nice trucks but nobody to put in them to drive them so, that's all I'm going to say," Court said.

In the end, the $900,000 purchase went through but councillors may take back another $500,000 that was approved earlier for other vehicle purchases.

Other councillors expressed their concern about the shape of the city's finances, even if they didn't discuss what precisely happened behind closed doors last Wednesday.

"We had a closed-door session last week that … I'm pretty nervous about, if we don't get a handle on that," Farren said.

Coun. Patti Higgins also described how "recent events" could force "council to do some budget juggling to the tune of several million dollars."

Financial troubles

Saint John began sounding the alarm over its financial troubles last fall.

The council ordered city staff to take a wage freeze and some unions had their benefits watered down.

The city still faced a $1-million deficit in 2010 with the admission that its 2011 budget could be even worse.

Saint John is attempting to deal with its employee pension fund, which is facing a $129-million deficit.

The city has asked the provincial government to alter the pension rules to allow for a change in the payment plan.

The city said in January that If the provincial government did not come through with the changes, Saint John property owners could face a tax hike combined with cuts to services as the city tries to make up the extra $8 million to $10 million.

Saint John's pension deficit is increasing by about $750,000 a month.