Saint John mulls budget options in private session
Saint John councillors will meet privately Monday evening to consider the so-called Plan B budget that would be used if the provincial legislature fails to approve $75 million in cuts to the city's employee pension plan.
Saint John council is looking at a $143-million budget for 2012 that maintains the tax rate and avoids major service cuts.
That financial plan was based on the principle that the legislature would approve cuts to cost-of-living increases in the city's employee pension fund.
However, the city will have to find an extra $9 million if the legislature does not approve the necessary changes.
That's why Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase said he wanted to see an alternate budget with the $9 million already removed.
"The possibility exists that that will be the budget. The $9 million will be accounted for right away, which means 100 layoffs," he said.
Councillors should be able to compare both budgets on Monday behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. Saint John is facing a pension plan deficit of $163 million.
The proposed changes to indexing are expected to reduce the deficit by $75 million.
Saint John council held a confidential meeting in June to discuss the city's worsening financial situation.
The Saint John Professional Firefighters Association said at a news conference on Friday that between eight to 24 layoffs are coming and the loss of an engine company, the third to be retired in recent years.
Paul Stackhouse, the association’s president, said the proposed cuts will put public safety at risk.
"Their own surveys are telling them the citizens of Saint John do not want this. And yet they continue to attack the fire service," he said.
This is a difficult budget cycle for the firefighters. Stackhouse said he understands if the Plan-B budget is implemented the department will lose a lot more than one engine company.
The firefighters association is circulating leaflets that warn of risks to life safety, property loss and higher insurance rates if cuts go ahead.
The pamphlets also urge people to call the mayor and council about their concerns.
However, Coun. Bill Farren said the department’s budget is being reduced in an attempt to deal with anticipated salary increases for firefighters.
A contract dispute between Saint John and its firefighters has been turned over to binding arbitration.
"We don't have the money to spend, unfortunately. I would like to keep them and every other department where they are … because we want to grow this city," Farren said.