Saint John pushes for province to act on tax changes immediately
City manager says New Brunswick should move on requests during pandemic to assist recovery
The City of Saint John is urging the provincial government to immediately allow it to collect millions from industry and neighbouring communities.
John Collin, the city manager, told reporters during a news conference Tuesday that he believes the province can implement the changes while addressing the coronavirus pandemic.
"There is no more important time than now to deal with the systemic issues so that when COVID-19 is over, and we are talking about recovery, our recovery can be supercharged," Collin said.
The pandemic has resulted in the province focusing on essential services and the legislature has reduced the time it sits to only brief periods to quickly pass legislation.
Collin said the city has studied the issue, prepared a plan and now needs provincial action.
We are dealing with both as two different beasts that need to be wrestled to the ground- John Collin, Saint John's city manager
He said both issues are connected, as each will affect city finances, but the pandemic will pass and the systemic issue will remain if left unaddressed.
"We are dealing with both as two different beasts that need to be wrestled to the ground," Collin said.
Jeff Carr, minister of Environment and Local Government, did not provide an interview.
A written statement attributed to Carr did not directly address if the province supports the measures.
Carr said he's "encouraged to see options that demonstrate significant and substantial steps" to address the city's finances.
The city's request was included in a plan presented to Saint John council Monday evening to address anticipated deficits of $10 million in 2021 and 2022.
The city wants provincial permission to collect an initial $6 million annually from outlying communities. It has proposed either road tolls at major entry points, or a special property tax levy.
It would apply to towns and local service districts within the region, Collin said.
It also wants the province to turn its portion of the property tax collected from heavy industry, about $8 million annually, over to the city on a trial basis.
The steps are considered an interim measure until the province is able to implement a promised overhaul of the property tax system.
Collin told reporters Tuesday those broader changes would likely take years to have in place.
The Progressive Conservative government committed to broad property tax reform last year as part of an effort to address the city's finances.
Mayor Don Darling said representatives of outlying communities are aware of the proposals.
The provincial changes would be in addition to cuts to the city's budget.
Those include cuts to fire, police and other city employees to save $5 million of the city's roughly $90 million spending on employees per year.
"This is not a large, or dramatic, reduction to our total people budget," the city manager said.
Collin wouldn't provide any specifics about the proposed impact to police and fire service, saying the city is still going through the collective bargaining process with several unions.
The proposal also calls for closing one of the city's arenas. Collin said no decision has been made on which one and that a staff recommendation will go to council sometime in the future.
The overall plan outlined Monday requires council approval, with a vote set for May 4.