New Brunswick

Saint John launches financial restructuring effort

Mayor Don Darling says he wants a financial restructuring plan for Saint John, believing the reforms proposed by the province won't deliver financial stability to the revenue-strapped city.

Don Darling said the city needs a concrete plan to address its financial troubles

Mayor Don Darling says the city needs 'concrete scenarios' for dealing with its prolonged financial difficulties. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Mayor Don Darling says he wants a financial restructuring plan for Saint John, believing the reforms proposed by the province won't deliver financial stability to the revenue-strapped city.

The mayor made his request to council this week, asking the finance committee to develop the restructuring plan for presentation in September.

Council put financial restructuring on hold in 2018, as the city looked into alternatives to making major cuts to the budget. 

The city now expects to have a deficit of $12 million in 2021, after a $22.8-million financial assistance package from the province runs out.

The mayor believes the time has come to bring restructuring, including budget cuts, back to the table. He referred to this as Plan B.

'Ugly Plan B'

"We keep talking about ugly Plan B … let's move from illustrative to hard scenarios," he said. 

He said the plan should address 11 major barriers, including the current property tax system, detailed in documents last December for the current city budget.  

A report presented to council by the provincial government on July 11 called Sustaining Saint John proposed a package of reforms, including steps to reduce labour costs, reforms of binding arbitration an requiring outlying communities to share capital costs for regional recreation and sport facilities.

City staff have said the estimates of potential savings in the report were optimistic. 

Delayed rejecting proposals

The majority of councillors looked to reject the reform package in July but a last-minute motion by Coun. Donna Reardon pushed the vote for 30 days. 

On Monday, Darling's call for a financial restructuring plan was met by approval from council and the motion passed unanimously. Many councillors, including Coun. Blake Armstrong, said this was long overdue. 

"Let's get to it. As I keep repeating, numbers never lie. We have to act on this."

Darling asked council on Monday to support coming up with a financial restructuring plan. (Sarah Kester/CBC)

Coun. John MacKenzie also spoke in favour of a restructuring plan, saying the city can't rely on "guesstimates" savings presented by the province.  

"If things work out and those promises and those guesstimates are right, good," he said. "But until then I think we have to look at the worst-case scenario."

The mayor has been trying to engage with the citizens of Saint John about the financial situation of the city and where he believes the Sustaining Saint John report falls short. 

He has held two public events and has been engaging with residents on social media. The mayor has also been encouraging citizens to write their local MLAs. 

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Reporter

Sarah Kester is a reporter at CBC in Saint John, New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.kester@cbc.ca.

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