A Saint John official estimates there is a $20-million maintenance backlog in the city.

Saint John councillors were warned on Monday night about the long-term implications of freezing spending on city buildings and vehicles.

Councillors were told on Monday night that if they cut back on vehicle replacement and building maintenance then future costs will be much higher for taxpayers.

Aside from the new police headquarters, the average Saint John city building is 30 years old.

Trevor Gamblin, the manager of Saint John’s facility management division, said there is already a $20-million maintenance backlog.

"These risks are very real,” Gamblin said when maintenance is postponed.

"Our annual funding for maintenance is below what best practice suggests and that's between two and four per cent of replacement costs. The annual capital funding is below what's required to address that backlog."

Saint John taxpayers were on the hook for roughly $750,000 for the unexpected maintenance costs on projects, such as the pedway system, the aquatic centre and the city market, according to Gamblin.

Saint John councillors also heard about how delayed maintenance costs are adding up for city-owned vehicles.

Robert Russell, the city’s fleet manager, said many vehicles are overdue for replacement that his department is actually planning to buy more of them.

"We're looking at a fairly aggressive fleet replacement program next year. And it would encompass a total of 39 vehicles."

The city is in the process of reviewing each department and asking what would happen if each department had its spending limited to a two-per-cent increase for inflation and what would happen if the budget was frozen.

The process, which was prompted by Saint John Mayor Mel Norton, was designed to give councillors a thorough understanding of the spending pressures in the city.

Norton also said in March the comprehensive review will almost certainly result in a shifting of funds and with some city services being cut.