Saint John Common Council has been given a sobering look into possible ways of dealing with an impending 11-million dollar deficit in 2021 and 2022.
A laundry list of ideas was presented to council. They include tolls on some city owned roads, parking fees at municipal parks, closing one of the several city owned arenas and maybe selling the rest.
There’s also talk of reducing the winter plowing fleet, freezing staff wages for two years and increasing taxes.
The future of major city owned assets including TD Station, Canada Games Aquatic Centre and Imperial Theatre is also on the table.
City staff will examine possibly reducing funding to the facilities and selling them. Selling Saint John Energy is also listed as a possibility if the city is unable to tap into revenue potential in the utility.
The Aquatic Centre has been a staple in the city since 1985 and continues to draw crowds.
“We have over forty thousand people that use this facility a year,” said General Manager Stephen Smith.
In 2018 Saint John funding for the centre totaled 770-thousand dollars. Smith says staff is working hard to increase revenue and reduce costs.
“We are in a position that we can weather this storm and we want to contribute to solving the problem the city is facing,” Smith added
Saint John Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary says council has to think long and hard how cuts, whichever are made, will impact its citizens.
“We’ll pay for it in the long run,” said McAlary. “People will move out of the Saint John area. They’ll move to other locations in the province. It’s going to hurt us.”
In the meantime, the city’s current mayor isn’t mincing words on how he feels the city got into its current situation.
“This is what an historical failure of leadership looks like,” said Don Darling. “That sounds harsh but it is my opinion that we have not addressed these issues,”
Darling also doesn’t feel the report presented to council addresses the root of the city’s cost problems.
“Our wage costs…our employee costs, our collective agreements…pension challenges (and) the relationship we have with industry,” Darling said.
For now the province has committed 10-million dollars to the city for the 2020 budget year.
McAlary says a letter is being sent to the premier requesting that if the city doesn’t use all 10-million dollars next year, the remainder could be used for an upcoming budget year. It was originally a use or lose it scenario.