Saint John plans local budget meetings

Saint John council is planning to hold a series of public meetings in September to help determine spending priorities for next year.

First meeting slated for Sept. 12

Saint John council is planning to hold a series of public meetings in September to help determine spending priorities for the upcoming budget.

The public meetings will be held in different wards across the city and it will give citizens a chance to talk about issues ranging from Saint John's pension crisis to the cuts it may force on city services.

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said on Monday night he understands the difficult decisions the city must make in its next budget.

"We all know that there are many more wants than there is capacity to provide for those wants," he said.

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton announced a series of public meetings to discuss the city's upcoming budget. (CBC)

Norton, however, warned that even while a pension reform task force is at work trying to minimize the damage caused by the city's pension crisis, it will still likely cost Saint John a lot of money.

"Part of it is really ensuring that the public understands what they may have to give up in this fiscal situation we're in." he said.

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

Saint John’s pension deficit is estimated to be $193 million. Council asked the legislative assembly to repeal its pension act earlier this year, a move that will give the city more flexibility in finding a fix to its pension crisis.

The pension task force could recommend Saint John adopt several pension reforms, similar to those announced by Premier David Alward in the spring.

The task force is expected to report back to Saint John council in the fall.

Norton said on Monday the task force is making some headway on its report.

"It's on schedule, as far as we know, for the end of September, the beginning of October to come back with a report and recommendation to council," he said.

‘Stop wasting money’

While the task force is continuing its work, the series of ward meetings is tentatively scheduled to begin on Sept. 12.

The first meeting will be held on the city’s west side in Ward 1.

Coun. Bill Farren represents that ward and he said he can predict what the politicians are going to hear when they arrive in the area.

Farren said he knocked on a lot of doors during the recent election and heard the same message repeatedly.

"Stop wasting money. Get your pension plan fixed. Fix those damn roads," he said.

Farren said he expects the final pension deficit, owed by taxpayers, will still be huge despite the task force’s efforts.

The city announced a series of cuts to staffing positions and services in 2012 to address its worsening financial situation.