Saint John’s fire department garnered more support during the final public workshop on the city’s 2013 budget Thursday night than during previous meetings.

Half of the estimated 40 people who attended the Ward 4 meeting on the city’s east side said they are satisfied with the fire service and the cost.

Another 18 per cent said the department's $22 million budget — already one of the most expensive — should be increased.

And 59 per cent listed the fire department as the service they are most satisfied with in terms of the level of service, amount, and cost.

By comparison, only 16 per cent of the 32 attendees at the first meeting in Ward 1 on the city’s west side said they were satisfied with the fire service.

Saint John council held meetings in each of the four wards this month to help determine spending priorities for the upcoming budget.

'Leave it alone'

Some of the people who attended Thursday’s meeting, including firefighters and other city employees, felt strongly that the fire department should not face cuts.

"Leave it alone," was one of the comments written on a flip chart as the citizens gathered at Forest Hills Baptist Church discussed and debated how their tax dollars should be spent.

Retired firefighter Harold Stevens said he is worried about the way things have been going recently — with cuts to the fire department and talk of more to come.

"I live here in Forest Hills. And you know, like your emergency services are primary," he said.

When Stu Benson questioned the level of fire service, Fire Chief Kevin Clifford stood right beside the table where he was sitting to respond.

Chief defends service

"We have industry in the eastern quadrant," said Clifford. "We have older housing stock in the uptown. We have older housing stock in the north end."

Benson didn't seem to mind the high-level intervention.

"It was good information, I guess," he said.

Crystal Lockerbie, of Glen Falls, said she doesn't want to see fire, or any other city services cut back.

"I would recommend no cuts to anything just because I don't believe that we have to cut stuff," she said.

"I believe we have to cut back on certain things, [like] maybe not expand right now."

The fire budget represents about 15 per cent of the city's overall budget.

Saint John council could be forced to cut city services to deal with the city's pension deficit, which is estimated to be $193 million.

Earlier this year, council asked the legislative assembly to repeal its pension act, a move that will give the city more flexibility in finding a fix to its pension crisis.

Council has asked a provincial task force to help the city craft a plan to resolve the pension problem.

How do you feel about fire services?  
Satisfied with service and cost 50 per cent
Would like to see more services; willing to pay more 18 per cent
Think service should be decreased; cost savings should result 18 per cent
Think a different service delivery model should be explored 15 per cent
Which service are you most satisfied with the level of service, amount and cost?  
Roads 3 per cent
Solid waste collection 14 per cent
Drinking water 3 per cent
Fire 59 per cent
Police 22 per cent