Selling assets, closing rinks among ideas Saint John council could use to address deficit

Click to play video: 'Tough decisions ahead for Saint John Council to address looming budget deficit'
Tough decisions ahead for Saint John Council to address looming budget deficit
WATCH: Common Council in Saint John has been given a long list of possibilities on how to deal with a looming deficit of $11 million dollars in 2021 and 2022. As Andrew Cromwell reports, the public will bear some of the impact. – Oct 8, 2019

Saint John Common Council has been given a sobering look into possible ways of dealing with an impending $11-million 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.

READ MORE: Saint John councillor suggests possibility of selling assets, including Harbour Station

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.

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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.

READ MORE: Saint John council delays vote on financial sustainability report for 30 days

In 2018 Saint John funding for the centre totaled $770,000, 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.”

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

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,”

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Darling also doesn’t feel the report presented to council addresses the root of the city’s cost problems.

READ MORE: Saint John council endorses ‘new deal’, but with reservations

“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 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 next year, the remainder could be used for an upcoming budget year. It was originally a use or lose it scenario.

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