New Brunswick

Saint John mayor wants grant increase to make up for N.B. assessment freeze

Saint John Mayor, Don Darling says the city will ask for an increase to its annual unconditional grant to make up for revenue to be lost in an assessment freeze imposed by the Gallant government.

Mayor Don Darling says the city is already facing a 3 to $4M shortfall in 2018

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says the city already faces "significant" financial problems. (CBC)

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says the city will ask for an increase to its annual unconditional grant, hoping to make up for lost revenue in an assessment freeze imposed by the Gallant government.

"There's a lot of urgency around this issue," said Darling. "We're trying to figure out exactly what it means, but we have significant financial challenges as it is."

Saint John's unconditional grant from the province amounts to $20.2 million in 2017.

Darling said it's critical to the city's $154 million operating budget.

Last Wednesday the Liberal government announced plans to freeze property assessments on hundreds of thousands of properties across the province in 2018. The announcement was made in response to the controversy over inflated tax bills issued to several hundred homeowners this year.

We're trying to figure out exactly what it means.- Don Darling

In making the announcement Environment and Local Government Minister Serge Rousselle called it a "necessary step" to restore public confidence in the property assessment system.

The assessment freeze does not extend to properties that are deemed to have fallen in value or to new construction.

But the freeze will hit municipalities hardest, who count on increased assessments to cover salary increases in collective agreements along with inflation in other expenses.

Financial shortfall expected

Darling says the city was not consulted prior to the announcement and staff are reaching out to officials in the provincial government for more information.

He says the municipality was already facing a serious financial shortfall next year.

"Prior to a freeze on tax assessments we were projecting somewhere in the range of a three to four million dollar problem for 2018," he said. "This isn't going to make that problem less significant, it's going to make it more significant."

Darling says mayors and senior staff from the province's three largest cities will meet Friday, with the assessment freeze being a key topic of discussion.

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