The City of Saint John will ask the New Brunswick government for major reforms to its property tax system.

Those changes — if accepted — would see the province stop levying its own property tax on top of the rate charged by municipalities.

In Saint John, the provincial portion amounted to between $30 million and $35 million this year, some or all of which, under the plan, could be assumed by the municipality.

The proposal would also give cities, towns and villages control over the creation of tax classes, allowing them to distinguish between such things as light and heavy industry.

Municipalities would gain control over the tax rates charged in those various classes.

The request for tax reform was approved unanimously by councillors on Monday, following delivery of a report by Jeff Trail, Saint John's city manager.

A burden for residential taxpayers

Among other things, Trail's report, called Fair Property Taxation, compares the burden carried by residential ratepayers with that of the city's heavy industries.

"When it comes to property taxes, a question we hear often [is], 'Are all the different rate classes paying their fair share?'" said Trail.

He said residential taxpayers pick up 61 per cent of the overall tax burden in Saint John, while heavy industry picks up just eight per cent.

'It's going to be a tough pill for them to swallow.' - Coun. David Merrithew

The Saint John Regional Hospital paid $4,573,282 in property taxes while the Irving Oil Refinery, the largest in Canada, was charged $2,638,762.

The city is struggling financially after years of nearly flat assessment growth and Trail warned difficult decisions will have to be made in the 2018 budget.

Coun. Gerry Lowe said the province's other municipalities have to be brought onside.

"I think it's very important that this city send this report to the other seven cities in New Brunswick to show them the work that's been done here, because it affects everybody," Lowe said.

Coun. David Merrithew urged city residents to push the issue with their MLAs.

"It's going to be a tough pill for them to swallow," Merrithew said.

Changes could have 'massive impact' 

Mayor Don Darling said Tuesday that he believes the reforms could "radically change" the course of Saint John's future and put it on a path to becoming a more financially sustainable city. 

"I truly believe we shouldn't have to suffer like this," he told Information Morning Saint John.  

"When I look around, when I look out my window and see the vibrancy in this city, and diversify of our economy, it's not adding up to us that we're struggling the way we are." 

He said he's hoping the municipality can make a compelling case to the province. 

"But if we have to be aggressive, we will be aggressive," he said. "This is incredibly important for us."