New Brunswick cities say it’s time to get back to work on municipal tax reforms now that the provincial election is over.
And they’re hoping the process will be easier with a majority government in place in Fredericton.
The Cities of New Brunswick Association called on all parties in the provincial campaign to pledge support for municipal reforms including an overhauled property tax system, changes to binding arbitration, investment in infrastructure and the ability for cities to generate non-tax-derived revenue.
Association vice-president Don Darling, the mayor of Saint John, said the current legislation is upwards of 60 years old.
He said updates are critical.
“It means that we can grow and thrive,” Darling said of the reforms. “We can stand on our own. We’ll be sustainable. We can invest dollars in ways to help the province meet its targets for population growth.”
Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie said his community has lost several key businesses in recent months. Still, he believes the region can contribute to the prosperity of the province under the right tax formula.
“We still have that father-and-son relationship with the provincial government,” Fongemie said. “It should be a brother-to-brother relationship and a more equal relationship. And I think we should play a role in the population growth.”
“We should play an active role in the development of the economy.”
Fongemie said he was pleased the previous Progressive Conservative minority government was able to introduce a hotel levy for municipalities.
He was hopeful Bill 13, which legislated reforms to the binding arbitration system, would make it through the legislature, but it was wiped out with the dissolution of the government after two readings.
But Darling said not enough progress had been made over the last year, adding that the uncertainty of a minority government was often blamed for it.
Premier Blaine Higgs restated his commitment to tax reform in time for the 2023 fiscal year during the election campaign. Higgs won a majority government Monday, with 27 of 49 seats in the legislature.
Darling said there are no excuses now that a majority is in place.
“The cities want to see an action plan, a work plan,” Darling said. “And, in my view, it doesn’t need to take until 2022. If there’s the will and we put the work plan in place, then I think we can be in a much better place in a year from now.”
Fongemie said it “takes courage” to implement the reforms.
“These are major reforms on how we’re going to do things and I think it needed to have a government with a second mandate, and now we have it.”
Both Darling and Fongemie say they want to see discussions resume once the new provincial cabinet is named, although their involvement in those talks may be limited.
Both are not re-offering as mayor.