New Brunswick

Advance on gas tax money not enough for struggling municipalities, say mayors

New Brunswick municipalities say they're happy to be receiving some of the federal government's advance gas tax payments, but say it doesn't address current shortfalls in communities struggling during the pandemic

Municipalities say money was already earmarked, doesn't address operational budgets or lost revenue

“This is really a cash advance on money that we would ultimately have received normally in November and that’s already in our budgets,” said Adam Lordon, the mayor of Miramichi and president of the Cities of New Brunswick Association. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

New Brunswick municipalities say they're happy to be receiving some of the federal government's advance gas tax payments, but say it doesn't address current shortfalls in communities struggling during the pandemic

On Monday, the federal government announced that $2.2 billion in gas tax payments will be fast tracked to municipalities, with the money arriving sometime this month.

But Adam Lordon, the mayor of Miramichi and president of the Cities of New Brunswick Association, said that funding is not new money and is already earmarked for capital projects. Lordon said it's operating costs that municipalities need help with right now.

"This is really a cash advance on money that we would ultimately have received normally in November and that's already in our budgets," said Lordon.

"While it's helpful in terms of making sure there's money in the bank it doesn't actually help address the loss in revenue that municipalities across the country and province are facing."

Saint John mayor Don Darling said the money is welcome, but largely spent.

"This is not new money, this is money frankly that we were counting on," said Darling.

"It's always nice to have the money in the bank sooner than you were anticipating, but these are not new projects for Saint John or new money for Saint John."

Lost revenue

Lordon estimates provincial municipalities will see $10.5 million in lost revenue because of COVID-19 by the end of July.

On Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the money "a start" and said the feds are looking to work with the provinces to get more money to the municipalities.

"The fact is we need to do more, and we will do more," said Trudeau.

Darling said if additional help doesn't come, it would be a disappointment to a city that has been hit hard by the loss of the cruise ship season, a major contributor to the city's tourism industry.

Jurisdictional concerns

Lordon said he hopes the feds and the provinces will be able to come together to secure funding for municipalities.

"Unfortunately, like is the case in many different times in many discussions, there's a bit of jurisdictional wrangling happening here," said Lordon.

"Unfortunately our communities where we live and the services we provide to citizens are at risk while federal and provincial governments go back and forth with who's going to do what."

He said the Federation of Canadian Municipalities asked for, nationwide, $10 billion in emergency operational funding to go to municipalities. This money would not be spent on infrastructure.

Lordon says the municipalities' discussions with the province have been less than perfect.

"We haven't had the level of engagement that we've been looking for from the provincial government,"

With files from Shift and Information Morning Saint John

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