Saint John Common Council has passed what’s been regarded as a landmark budget for 2021.
At $158 million, it’s about $8 million less than the budget for the 2020 fiscal year.
Council faced a $10 million deficit for 2021. Cuts to police, fire, inside and outside workers and management staff ate up about $6 million while the rest came through the city’s Sustainability Initiative.
Saint John received financial aid from the provincial government three years in a row, ending in 2020.
The 2021 budget was approved by the city’s finance committee about three weeks ago and does not include help from New Brunswick coffers. It passed by unanimous vote at this week’s meeting of Common Council.
Coun. David Merrithew, the chair of the finance committee, said the changes were difficult, but necessary.
“Council and staff worked very hard,” Merrithew said. “I think we’ve actually turned a corner for the city of Saint John. If future councils stick with what we’ve done, this road we’ve paved for them, we’re talking about tax rate decreases in the near future.”
Saint John Mayor Don Darling and other councillors spoke throughout the budget process of the need for municipal tax reform. Unions representing police and firefighters, often at odds with the city over cuts to their services, agreed with council that legislation needs to be modernized to allow Saint John and other cities around the province to keep more of the tax money they generate.
Merrithew said tax reform is a “big, big part of the equation” for the prosperity of New Brunswick cities.
“That reform, which is absolutely critical for all of the cities of the province of New Brunswick, will make those future tax reductions come a little faster and be a little deeper,” he said.