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Saint John Mel Norton said a provincial task force will meet with staff and unions over the summer to make recommendations on the city's pension plan. (Courtesy of Mel Norton)

A provincial pension task force will meeting with Saint John management and union representatives over the summer and develop a plan to help the city resolve its ongoing pension problems.

Saint John council was scheduled to debate Coun. Susan Fullerton's motion to replace the current pension board with professional financial advisors.

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said council will defer Fullerton’s motion until after a provincial task force makes recommendations to fix the city’s pension plan's growing deficit.

"The task force will be the ones carrying the ball on this. They will be the ones responsible for coming back to council," Norton said.

"Our job will be to stay out of the way of the task force and let the task force do its work before we do anything else on this end of things."

The task force is expected to report back to council in the early fall after it spends the summer consulting city unions and management on possible reforms.

Saint John is starting to use its new powers over the future of its pension plan.

The provincial legislature passed a bill before it adjourned for the summer that repealed the Saint John Pension Act. That move gives Saint John greater autonomy in handling its pension crisis.

The city’s pension deficit is estimated to be $193-million.

Premier David Alward announced significant pension reforms in May and invited other public and private sector unions to adopt similar rules.

New Brunswick is modelling its pension reform after the Dutch system.

The reforms will not cut the benefits that are in place for retirees but it will likely lead to "marginal" increases to employee contributions.

Other changes include, basing pensions on an "enhanced career average" of earnings rather than the employee’s final salary.

Further, the retirement age will be moved to 65 from 60 over a 40-year period.

The New Brunswick Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1252 and the New Brunswick Pipe Trades have already decided to use the new pension model for some of their pension plans.

‘A real win’

Saint John’s new mayor began holding meetings with the provincial government shortly after the May 14 municipal election.

Norton told council on Monday night that he believes it is important to include the city’s unions in the discussions with the provincial task force.

"It's a real win to see all the labour groups come around this, management come around this, and a huge opportunity for the community to save a lot in resources," he said.

Unions have resisted the former city council’s attempt to control the pension problem.

Saint John had been advocating the legislative assembly adopt several changes to the pension plan that would have suspended cost-of-living increases for current and future retirees.

But that plan was shelved when the city changed its request and asked for the act to be repealed.

Jamie Hachey, the president of the Saint John Police Association, isn’t talking about possible reforms in Saint John.

He focuses instead on getting the best result for everyone.

"This provides the examination of a sustainable, affordable, secure option for all parties, including the citizens of Saint John," he said.