Saint John mayor says city is in ‘crisis’, demands new deal with province
Saint John Mayor Don Darling promised a candid, blunt speech in his first State of the City address and he didn’t disappoint, saying the city was in “crisis”.
“I’m not willing to kick the ball down the road any further,” Darling said. “The time to address our challenges is right now.”
Darling had the ear of about two hundred people representing the city’s political, business and academic sectors. While the mayor balanced his remarks on both the positive and negative when it comes to the city’s current state of affairs, Saint John’s current economic situation played a prominent role.
The city could go into 2018 budget discussions looking at a $5 million deficit because of a population decline and tax assessment freeze.
“If this trend continues Saint John will be left with few choices,” Darling explained. “Either cut costs aggressively or raise taxes or some combination of both.”
He says Saint John’s unique situation calls for a new deal with the province regarding its unconditional grant.
“Something is fundamentally broken when we have a GDP and an economy that is 20 per cent of the province’s economy and we have to rely on a $20 million grant to survive.”
Saint John Harbour Liberal MLA and cabinet minister Ed Doherty was part of the audience and said he would take the mayor’s call back to the province.
“[I] will discuss it with our local government minister and we’ll sit around the table and we’ll certainly present all the facts,” Doherty said.
Darling admitted the elephant in the room relates to Saint John’s suburban municipalities. He says the city is put at a financial disadvantage with many people working in the city but paying taxes elsewhere.
“I think most people in this room would describe themselves as Saint John’ers but 50 per cent of them don’t live in Saint John and we pay our bills with the 67,000 people paying taxes in this city,” he said.
But the mayor of Rothesay feels they’re pulling their weight.
“We already contribute over half a million dollars annually to things in the city, regional facilities and so on,” said Mayor Nancy Grant. “Our workers come into the city, they’re employees in businesses that pay taxes.”
Darling added the current situation isn’t sustainable and, although he doesn’t want to have a fight, he is prepared for a difficult discussion.
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