Saint John mayor worried about public safety
Ivan Court says 2012 budget cuts will affect police, fire
Saint John Mayor Ivan Court expects to see layoff notices start going out to city employees within a week, including police officers and firefighters.
More than 50 positions will be eliminated under the 2012 city budget, approved by council Wednesday night.
The mayor and Coun. Patti Higgins were the only two members of council who voted against the so-called Plan B budget, which will cut $9 million in programs and services across the board.
"What we're gonna lose here is trust — the trust of our employees, the trust of our citizens," Court said during the crowded, silent meeting.
On Thursday morning, the mayor told CBC News he’s also concerned about the $144 million-budget’s impact on public safety, given the loss of 20 police officers over the next two years, at least 16 firefighters, and a co-ordinator with the Emergency Measures Organization.
'We are an industrial city, accidents do happen. Major fires take place. Do we have the capacity if two major events happen at the same time? Probably not.'—Mayor Ivan Court
"We are an industrial city, accidents do happen. Major fires take place. Do we have the capacity if two major events happen at the same time? Probably not."
"I’m concerned we’re not taking it from the right areas in order to guarantee the public safety of citizens."
The transit department, dangerous buildings bylaw enforcement, animal control, and heritage conservation are among the other services being scaled back.
Dozens of organizations, such as Enterprise Saint John, Waterfront Development, and MindCare will also be cut, along with several community groups, including the Human Development Council, Key Industries, P.R.O. Kids and the New Brunswick Arts Board.
The tax rate remains the same at $1.785 per $100 of assessed value.
Waiting on province
Councillors contend many of the cuts could have been avoided if the provincial government had revealed its intentions on the city's request to roll back employee pension benefits.
Council has asked the provincial legislature to approve several changes to the city's pension plan, such as cuts to cost-of-living increases, to help deal with the plan's deficit, which has now ballooned to $190 million.
But the legislature doesn't sit again until March.
If the changes aren't approved, the city will have to come up with the extra $13 million annually, up from the $9 million originally thought, city manager Pat Woods told council during the meeting.
He said the pension deficit had jumped from $163 million to $190 million because the plan’s investments made nothing on the markets in 2011.
As a result, Woods recommended council accept the Plan B budget and its $9 million in cuts, saying anything less would put the city at too much risk if it does have to come up with the extra $13 million.
Court remains optimistic the province will approve the necessary changes, based on correspondence and conversations with the provincial superintendent of pensions.
Still, the cuts will take effect immediately, he said.
"The timeline started last night with notifications to department heads. The city manager will spend all day with the various departments and how they will implement it and move forward," said Court.
"I have to live with it and so will the governments that come after us for the next 15 years until something drastic happens on the other side."