Mel Norton confronts Saint John pension crisis
New Saint John mayor has met with Premier David Alward on pension problems
Mel Norton was sworn in as Saint John's new mayor on Monday evening but he has been travelling to Fredericton for meetings over the last two weeks to discuss the city's pension crisis.
The issue of pensions has engulfed municipalities across the country but Saint John’s $193-million deficit is the worst in the region, according to municipal records.
Norton did not waste any time after his landslide victory on May 14 to start addressing the city's pension crisis
The new mayor has already met with Premier David Alward to discuss the city’s pension problems.
He said he wanted to "express to the premier and to his office the importance of this issue, how critical it is to deal with it and to deal with it once and for all."
Norton said he stressed the need to get approval from MLAs for changes to the legislation governing the city's pension plan.
Those changes include cuts to benefits for both employees and retirees.
On May 7, before the May 14 election, city council voted for pension reforms.
But last week, outgoing Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase alleged councillors were "duped" into voting for a plan that would only benefit the city's top earners.
Chase, who did not seek re-election, blamed "selfish and thoughtless greed" for the changes. City officials opted to remove the controversial parts of the pension bill.
The legislative assembly will need to approve the proposed reforms.
Norton's 76 per cent vote total has created high expectations for the young lawyer as he takes office and he tries to whittle away at the city's significant problems.
Municipal swearing-in a family affair
It was a special night for Rev. Melrose T. Norton, who delivered the invocation at Saint John city council's swearing-in ceremony.
Rev. Norton is the father of both the mayor and Ward 1 Coun. Greg Norton.
"It has to be one of the best highlights of my life to see my two sons step forward to serve the amazing people in Saint John," Rev. Norton said.
The city's deficit dwarfs other Maritime centres, records show
Saint John's $193-million deficit is staggering compared to Moncton’s plan, for instance, which is considered fully funded with no deficit.
Under that plan, employees currently pay nine per cent of their regular salary, which the city matches, only their regular salary is pensionable, and the plan is not indexed for inflation.
Although Fredericton has found itself in a pension mess, it's not anywhere near the scale of Saint John's.
The capital city's unfunded liability is about $37 million, according to 2010 numbers.
The municipality and its workers have both increased contributions by 0.9 per cent, since June 2011.
In addition, in January overtime was removed from pensionable earnings and indexing against inflation was capped at 1.5 per cent.
Miramichi also has an unfunded liability, but as of 2011 it sat at about $3.4 million.
Meanwhile, the Halifax Regional Municipality has a shortfall in its employee pension fund of $86 million, according to 2011 figures.
But with 9,000 members, compared to Saint John's 1,700 members, the Halifax plan is considered healthy.It earned about 10 per cent on its investments in 2010, slightly outperforming its benchmark by 0.04 per cent.