hi-nb-mel-norton-0513-852

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton says a property tax cut would send a positive message to developers and the business community.

Saint John city managers say they are working on a "status quo" budget for 2014, but Mayor Mel Norton and some councillors are pushing for a property tax cut.

Norton says he wants council to "look at a sustainable decrease in the property tax rate."

A tax cut would send a positive signal to developers and the business community that City Hall is betting on a new era of growth, he suggested during Monday night's council meeting.

Coun. Donna Reardon agrees. "I'd like to see a one cent reduction in the tax rate," she said.

The city's current tax rate is $1.785 per $100 of assessed value — the highest in the province.

The mayor said roads, a new water system and recreation spending also remain priorities for him.

But finance commissioner Greg Yeomans warned council that most of a status quo 2014 budget is already committed to issues, such as salaries, pension costs, and building leases.

"You don't have $150 million to do with as you please," he said, noting the provincial government is also cutting unconditional grants to municipalities so the city will be losing money on the revenue side, but how much is not yet known.

The city's 2013 unconditional grant was $18.5 million. A one per cent cut would represent a loss of $185,800, while a six per cent cut would mean $1.15 million less, council was told.

"There's not a lot of room for significant growth or much growth at all in your expenditures beyond the programs you are already committed to," said Yeomans.

New labour contracts will also be required for police, firefighters, inside and outside workers, he said.

Coun. Susan Fullerton wants city staff to submit suggestions on ways to save money — "everything that the staff think could be cut and nobody would notice or care."

Coun. Gerry Lowe also suggested putting together a list of the land the city owns and consider selling some parcels.