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

Saint John Common Council has made its comments on the city’s upcoming budget.

The $166-million budget holds the city’s tax rate stable for a 12th consecutive year but it still remains the highest in the province.

It was presented to council at a special meeting Wednesday night to be received and filed.

Council still has to vote on whether or not to approve it. It is expected to pass later this month.

The document is being called a transitional budget. The mayor says several key decisions must still be made as the 2020 budget sets the stage for 2021, when there is an anticipated deficit of $10 million.

“So January, February and March we’re going to be continuing this discussion of the items that are on the list for further exploration and… (it is) the objective that this council will make all of those difficult decisions by the end of March of 2020,” said Saint John Mayor Don Darling.

He’s referring to dozens of so-called “sustainability” items council has been grappling with over the past several weeks.

These are items city staff have been presenting to council as a way to deal with the multi-million-dollar deficit in 2021. Council is currently in the process of deciding which items will remain open for discussion.

So far, one item — removing lifeguards at one of the city beaches — has been deemed not palatable by council and will not be looked at any further.

One major item moving forward, according to Darling, will address 50 per cent of the $10-million deficit for 2021. Staff are recommending that half the budget deficit be dealt with through workforce adjustment and personnel policy changes, which could mean an unknown number of layoffs.

“That is 50 per cent of our deficit will be addressed through our workforce, so approximately $5 million per year,” Darling said.

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