A day after Saint John council moved to delay voting on the so-called “new deal” report, a labour analyst with the New Brunswick Police Association is taking aim at some of the measures called for by the plan.
Of particular concern for the association: a proposal to reform binding arbitration for first responders.
“This is just a red herring as far as we’re concerned, and it goes away from the real issues, which is regionalization, regional taxation and fair taxation on heavy industry,” said Bob Davidson.
“Those are the real drivers for the city of Saint John’s finances.”
While those other measures are being discussed, projected timelines laid out by the report suggest meaningful legislative changes won’t take effect until at least 2023.
Davidson says that means short-term impacts on protective services are more likely to come from cuts than reforms.
“The City of Saint John, based on its current cost of services can no longer afford those services based on the revenues that we’re reliable, with certainty, able to predict that we’re going to receive in the foreseeable future and that we’re going to make some cost adjustments,” said Kevin Fudge, Saint John’s finance commissioner, at a special meeting of council on Thursday night.
Davidson says any prospective cuts to protective services, which could be close to a $4.5 million figure suggested in 2017, are completely unacceptable.
“There’s only one municipal service that’s mandated by legislation. It’s police,” he said.
“In the municipalities act, it says that a city must provide adequate police protection so they better look other places and the citizens of Saint John will demand that they look other places than cutting their police force.”
Over the next 30 days, Saint John will be hard at work trying to negotiate a deal to bridge the revenue gap projected over the next few years and avoid having to make deep cuts to public services.
When asked what could be on the table come budget time city manager John Collin provided council with an “illustrative” list of what might have to land on the chopping block.
Collins included significant cuts to transit, protective services, the elimination of community grants, recreation subsidies, the implementation of user fees on garbage collection and non-user fees on parking, workforce reductions and pay freezes and, “without doubt, more potholes and more ice on our roads.”
Collins did say that staff are looking at potential revenue streams to ease the burden, but that cuts would be necessary.
Mayor Don Darling told reporters after the meeting that the city knows that there will need to be cuts no matter what happens with the negotiations over the next month, but that they hope to lessen their blow by securing agreements in key areas like property tax reform.
“The goal of this was that we would be financially sustainable by 2021 or sooner and we’re not, so there is a shortfall here and we’re not looking for bailouts, we’re looking for tangible solutions that we can put on the table. We’ll cut, we’ll adjust, we’ll tackle those barriers that we have,” he said.
“It’s in the best interest of the city and the province for Saint John to continue to thrive and move forward. We have no time for an economic stall-out here of our city and regional economy so I’m looking forward to what we can come together with over the next thirty days.”
Addressing the plan for the first time, premier Blaine Higgs said he’s confident the plan is beneficial to Saint John.
He said now is the time for sacrifices across the province, including within the provincial government, which was able to cut its way to a $10 million surplus on the 2019 budget.
“I don’t think what will be required to do in order to put us on a corrective path will be a deterrent to growth at all. I think it will be a case of people looking at saying well it’s about time, it’s about time these issues were looked at,” he told reporters at the Fredericton airport just after arriving from the first ministers meeting in Saskatchewan.
“As a province, we’re doing the same thing. You know people say it’s about time, we’ve been talking about this stuff for long enough. So this is not a plan to just keep talking, this is a plan of action.”
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