Saint John’s fire chief is promising he can find ways to trim his budget by $500,000 without laying off any of the city’s firefighters.
Saint John council passed its 2013 budget on Monday night after several delays, primarily because of issues surrounding the switch to a new pension scheme.
The $147.9-million budget includes more money for road maintenance, public transit and Enterprise Saint John. But it also includes a $500,000 cut to the fire department’s budget.
Kevin Clifford, Saint John’s fire chief, said he is finding ways to reduce his budget without eliminating staff.
"Practically a $300,000 reduction in overtime, $50,000 reduction to the training associates program, another $50,000 reduction in — probably — the holiday relief program," he said.
Clifford’s budget belt-tightening is being made more difficult considering he learned late last year he will have to pay out a lot more in salaries.
An arbitrator awarded a 12 per cent pay increase to his firefighters over four years.
Clifford said he has spent a lot of time managing financial crises since he became the city’s fire chief.
Last year, Clifford had to eliminate an engine company, which included 16 firefighters and their truck because of budget restraint.
His job was made easier because it was a year when 16 firefighters chose to retire.
Paul Stackhouse, the president of the Saint John Fire Fighters’ Association, said he is not confident the budget cut can be handled easily but said he will wait until he sees the chief's plan.
"Usually it does mean a reduction of service," he said.
Saint John’s fire department was singled out early in the city’s pre-budget consultations as a target for budget cuts.
The fire department gets $20 million a year, which is one of the highest budgets for a city of its size in Canada.
Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said on Monday under the city’s tough financial circumstances the council put forward a good budget.
"It responds very heavily to roads, recreation. It responds to quality of life things, whether it's transit or community centre, the kinds of things that people really care about," he said.
The budget includes a surprise hit to the police department, which has been told it will have to find $290,000 to cover its share of long term disability benefits.
It has not yet been determined how that will effect police operations.