New Brunswick unveils 3-part plan for Saint John involving regionalization

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Saint John releases financial action plan
WATCH: Provincial and municipal officials have collaborated to create a three-part plan to stabilize city finances. Tim Roszell has the details – Jul 10, 2019

New Brunswick has unveiled a three-part plan for the City of Saint John that is intended to address the municipality’s financial situation.

The plan, which has already been approved by the provincial government, was made public on Wednesday.

The plan is set to to be debated Thursday evening at a special meeting of Saint John common council. The meeting will be held at Saint John City Hall and will open to the public at 6 p.m. AT.

A committee representing the provincial and municipal governments helped create the plan and lays out a way to “support short- and longer-term financial self-sustainability by the City of Saint John.”

Jeff Carr, the New Brunswick minister of environment and local government, described the report as a proud undertaking by multiple levels of government.

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“At the end of the day I believe it’s a document that not only brings the City of Saint John to the top as leaders in our province but will also move our province forward in a way that we’ve never seen before,” said Carr.

“This is a document so comprehensive and so detailed to help the success of Saint John and our province that I don’t see how even certain parts of this document will leave us to fail.”

The document’s release comes only days after Saint John common council passed a motion to release the plan to the public.

READ MORE: Saint John council motion shows confusion over when joint working group report can be released

A 20-step action plan

The plan’s first step recommends the City of Saint John moves to implement 20 action items listed in the plan.

Those include addressing the aspects of “collective agreements that are not sustainable in the current fiscal climate,” implementing reform of binding arbitration throughout the province (including in Saint John), tax exempting some municipal properties, assessing the future of Saint John Energy and pursuing new revenue streams.

On Wednesday, Saint John deputy mayor Shirley McAlary did not reveal whether she would personally support the document but said she doesn’t feel there’s enough there to bring about financial sustainability for the city in the short term.

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“It doesn’t face the issues coming sooner, rather than later,” McAlary said.

“The city has an issue at the end of 2020. We will not be able to balance our 2021 budget without an additional $10-million, so somewhere along the line we’ve got to find $10-million.”

Task force for regionalization

The second part of the plan involves the creation of a regional management task force made up of mayors from all of the local governments in the Greater Saint John region.

The task force would then be given the mandate to identify and agree on arrangements for “shared service delivery and shared use of services within the region and to achieve associated equitable cost-sharing.”

By March 31, 2020, the task force will be required to submit an agreement that is signed off on by the mayors’ respective local government councils.

“No savings or revenue targets have been pre-established, but the expectation is that the outcome does benefit the region, including the City of Saint John, while ensuring fairness among communities within the region,” the plan reads.

An accounting consultant hired by the province of New Brunswick will help guide the task force.

But at least one former city councillor isn’t sold on the proposed project.

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Saint John Harbour Liberal MLA Gerry Lowe said he wasn’t impressed with what he saw.

“I’m disappointed it’s not something that’s going to help the city of Saint John right now and it’s not going to be something that’s going to reduce the tax rate.”

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Reassessment by the province

The third and final part of the plan is to have the provincial government reassess the City of Saint John’s financial status.

The plan says no additional provincial funding has been allotted to this measure but that the reassessment will inform whether “any further action is required.”

That could include further financial or policy measures, though the plan does not address what that could mean.

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Carr said that he plans to be in attendance for Thursday’s special council meeting in Saint John.

With files from Tim Roszell

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