Saint John temporarily shelves city budget

Saint John councillors balked at passing the city's 2012 budget on Monday night, deferring the vote until after they view an alternate budget option.

Councillors seek alternate budget

Saint John councillors backed away from passing the 2012 municipal budget on Monday night.

The Saint John council, instead, tabled the $143-million document and will meet behind closed doors this weekend to discuss an alternate budget plan that includes a series of deep cuts and layoffs.

The 115-page budget document was ready for council's approval on Monday night, which included $47 million for police and fire, money for community groups with some small cuts and revenue increases.

But when councillors walked in an hour late for the public session, Pat Woods, the city manager, offered an explanation.

"I understand that there is some concern about what the details of a backup plan would be," Woods said.

Saint John councillors had a case of the jitters on Monday night. There were specific questions surrounding what happens if the provincial government failed to approve cuts to city employee pension benefits when the legislature meets this spring.

In that situation, Saint John would be almost half way through the year and would be forced to find $9 million in cuts or revenue increases.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase said that would be a disaster. He said he'd like to start chopping right now.

"The $9-million will be accounted for right away, which means 100 layoffs," he said.

Then, Chase said, if the legislature does approve the pension cuts the $9 million in savings can be applied to the debt.

Not ready for layoffs

Other city politicians, such as Coun. Bruce Court, say they're not ready to layoff city workers. They just want to know there's an alternate budget if needed.

Saint John council is asking the provincial government to approve a bill that would allow Saint John to make a series of pension reforms.

Saint John is hoping to cut $75-million out of its $163-million pension deficit by ending cost-of-living increases in the pension plan for workers and suspending them for retirees.

The city’s roughly 1,600 workers and its retirees have promised to lobby the provincial government to keep their cost-of-living increases.

The proposed legislation to make the changes was supposed to be introduced in the legislature last December. However, the city did not get the proper materials finalized in time.