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Saint John Sustainability Plan presented to council suggests levy to be implemented

Common COuncil received the city's long term sustainability plan Monday night. It will go through a two week consultation period before returning to council. Andrew Cromwell/Global News

A Saint John levy is part of the city of Saint John’s plan for economic stability now and in the future, according to a document presented to Common Council on Monday night.

Council has received the long awaited Long Term Sustainability Plan, a proposed economic blueprint, which has been many months in the making. It would set the city’s financial agenda which includes a current deficit of approximately ten million dollars.

READ MORE: Saint John council makes 1st comments on 2020 ‘transitional’ budget

The proposed levy is part of a three pronged approach city staff has put together. The plan suggests either a levy or road tolls be implemented as part of a way to recover costs incurred upon Saint John as being a ‘regional hub’ to several suburban communities.

But the levy would first need approval from the province before being implemented.

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The plan says an annual levy of 265 dollars would result in six million dollars to the city while a 353 dollar levy would net eight million.

The toll plan would see two dollar tolls collected at major entry routes into the city between 5 A.M. and 9: 30 A.M. Saint John residents would receive a “free pass.”

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

Mayor Don Darling, in a media availability with reporters Tuesday morning, says he feels residents in the outlying communities would generally be supportive of a levy.

“Whether I’m in the (Kennebecasis) Valley or whether I’m in the city I’m often stopped be residents from outside the city who believe that it’s time to take our relationship to another level and I think that’s the biggest opportunity that we have,” Darling said.

“Over the next short period of time I think we have to dialogue together as municipal leaders but also with citizens to explain that for an investment for less than a dollar a day we can take our region to another level.”

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City Manager John Collin says a levy would change things the city currently has planned for non-city residents when it comes to recovering money for the city.

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“It would be, if you will, a one lump sum payment in the form of a levy, to offset all these other distractions, annoyances, and friction points that currently exist within the region,” said Collin.

“For example we would be able to completely walk away from the notion of non-resident user fees of differential parking rates, of contributions to the regional facilities, of changes in legislation required on regional facilities so that the outlying communities contribute to capital.”

Regional cost sharing and provincial tax reforms are seen as two important pillars to the plan. Collin says comprehensive tax reform will take years to implement.

READ MORE: New Brunswick nixes proposed toll roads in Saint John

As an interim measure the city is proposing the province immediately turn over provincially retained property taxes from heavy industry, estimated to be in the eight to nine million dollar range.

“We think the business case is very solid,” said Darling. “It recognizes and brings some immediate action on the tax reform file. Darling added that could be replaced down the road as more comprehensive tax reforms are made at the provincial level.

The sustainability plan also deals with short term financial implications, a deficit approaching 2021 of about ten million dollars. The city has committed to finding half that amount through “workforce adjustments.”

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The city manager says with a people budget of about $90 million that doesn’t necessarily mean drastic layoffs.

“It’s not a dramatic reduction to our total people budget,” said Collins. “It’s in the neighbourhood of a six per cent reduction,” he added.

Collin wouldn’t comment on how many people might be impacted by the moving, adding that would be pat of the collective bargaining process with the various unions involved.

READ MORE: On thin ice: Saint John council ponders closing arena as cost-cutting measure

The impact of Covid 19 was also discussed. Collin says the pandemic will have a dramatic impact on the city’s finances but that it will end. He does says the virus and the city’s financial future are interwoven.

“But we are dealing with both of them as two different beats that have to be wrestled to the ground. There’s no more important time than now to deal with the (city’s) systemic issues,” said Collin.

“So that when Covid 19 is over and we are talking about recovery our recovery can be supercharged because we’ve dealt with the sustainability issues. We are one big large well coordinated ,well aligned region.”

With the release of the financial plan it will now undergo a two week consultation period before coming back before Common Council May 4th.

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The mayor believes the public, in general, has grown tired of hearing about these issues. “It’s time to rip the band-aid off and move on and that’s what we’ve lad out here,” said Darling.

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