New Brunswick

Minister sides with suburbs in rejecting Saint John proposals for sharing

Local Government Minister Jeff Carr says Saint John has to make some tough decisions before the city's neighbours will be ready to talk more about sharing costs.

City needs to rein in expenses, says Local Government Minister Jeff Carr

Local Government Minister Jeff Carr says the province won't be turning over $8 million in tax revenue from industry. (CBC News file photo)

Local Government Minister Jeff Carr says Saint John has to make some tough decisions before the city's neighbours will be ready to talk more about sharing costs.

"The message is clear from the outlying areas," said Carr. "They want to help, they want to continue to partner but they have to see a little movement by Saint John council."

Carr's comments to CBC News came the day after the minister sent a letter to city council in response to a long-term sustainability plan released by the city.

Among other things, the plan proposes a levy on the property tax bills in outlying communities that would increase the amount of assistance the city's neighbours now provide, and to offset costs incurred by Saint John as a regional hub.

We can no longer continue to pick winners and losers so everybody has to be treated fairly in that regard.- Jeff Carr, local government minister

But the minister wrote he would not reconvene a regional management task force that had been looking into cost-sharing with Saint John until the city "has demonstrated substantial and measurable progress" on sustainability.

As part of an "action plan" for Saint John jointly released by the city and province in July 2019, the provincial government paid for an operational review of city operations by consultants Ernst and Young. 

It identified $25 million — $35 million in what it described as opportunities for the city to save costs or generate new revenue.

"There are millions and millions and millions of dollars identified by Ernst and Young in the report," said Carr. "So there's lots of opportunities there that the city can take, as well as having a look at their expenses they've raised over the last three years."

The proposals in the consultant's report include major reorganizations and cuts in areas such as the Fire Department, where it suggests 32 to 40 firefighter positions could be eliminated along with the closing of a fire station and the retiring of two engines and two tankers.

It suggests 20 per cent of the police department's patrol strength could be converted into civilian jobs and identifies further potential job reductions at Saint John Water and at Public Works and Recreation.

The Ernst and Young report suggests 20 percent of the Saint John Police Department's patrol strength could be converted to civilian jobs. (CBC)

The city is also asking the province for fundamental changes to the property tax system, particularly where heavy industry is concerned.

As an interim measure the municipality is hoping the province will turn over its portion of the tax collected from Saint John industries — about $8 million annually — until those reforms are introduced in 2022.

But Carr is clear the province won't be handing over the industrial tax revenue in advance of the reforms.

"If we hand over industrial tax to one city, why wouldn't we hand it over to all? We can no longer continue to pick winners and losers so everybody has to be treated fairly in that regard," said the minister.

Saint John councillor David Hickey. 'The city has met all of our requirements.' (@davidhickeynb Twitter)

On Monday night, city council approved a series of measures to trim costs by $10 million in 2021 and 2022 by cutting six million from workforce costs, closing a rink, raising fees and cutting back on other services, such lawn mowing and flower planting.

Saint John councillor David Hickey described Carr's response as "disheartening."

"We can't pretend, I think, that this was a case of Saint John missing deadlines or not taking significant steps to restructure because based on the plan that both the province and the city agreed to in our sustainability plan, the city has met all of our requirements," said Hickey.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now