Saint John Common Council, by a vote of seven to three, has endorsed a long-term sustainablity plan with the province more than a month after the original plan was tabled.
The endorsement, however, is anything but cut and dried.
The province amended its original plan by promising more detailed wording on potential changes to binding arbitration for police and fire and similar changes when it comes to unlocking surpluses at the city owned Saint John Energy.
But the city has officially expressed its reservations including the ongoing potential for a $12 million deficit in 2021.
It has also made a number of suggestions to the province. They include property tax reforms as well as tolls for suburbanites on their morning commute.
Two councillors, Shirley McAlary and Blake Armstrong, were vocal in their opposition, while councillor David Hickey made a point of expressing his support.
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As for the plan as a whole, there was a clear feeling around the council table for those voting in favour.
“I really want to get to work on these things,” said councillor Gary Sullivan. “I know Saint John [has] started working on these things. I’m sure the province has started working on things already and [is] ready to go, so let’s go.”
Those voting against were concerned about the lack of action on the impending deficit in 2021 and 2022. “It (the sustainability plan) doesn’t do anything for the city of Saint John like the deputy mayor said,” said Armstrong.
“At the end of the day, we’re cutting $12 million and we can talk til the cows come home…$12 million.”
Mayor Darling also expressed reservations with parts of the plan, adding it is rife with politics.
“I think over the last 38 days we’ve seen the ugliest of politics,” said Darling. “We’ve seen attacks.
“That doesn’t sit lightly with me.”
Local government minister Jeff Carr was on hand to witness council’s decision and disputes the hefty deficit figure being put forward.
“If they look at the numbers they will see the $12 million number is not accurate with the numbers we’ve already proposed,” said Carr. “Some of the legislation that we’ve already changed that they can take advantage of.”
Council will revisit how the plan is working out in March.