Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers is calling on the Higgs government to reconsider its decision to reject a proposal that would see the city of Saint John keep more of the property taxes generated by its industrial tax base.
While this was a key recommendation of the city, which is looking for ways to address its considerable financial challenges, Premier Higgs and his cabinet chose to not include it in its recently released report, “Sustaining Saint John: A Three Part Plan.”
The report was originally intended to be a non-partisan examination of potential solutions to the City of Saint John’s financial challenges. The previous Liberal government has asked a group of senior-level non-partisan civil servants from the city and the province to present a suite of recommendations on how to address the city’s budget challenges.
The Higgs government delayed releasing the report on the recommendations by six months and its report chose to edit out the recommendation on industrial property taxes that would contribute greatly to seeing the city address its financial challenges.
“It’s disappointing the premier and the minister chose to not make this part of the solution for Saint John,” Vickers said. “This was supposed to be a non-partisan report but unfortunately the premier and the minister have turned it into a bit of a political football.”
Vickers said there are some positives in the report, but ultimately the recommendations were watered down to the point it will be difficult for the city to address its structural deficit in a timely manner.
“I agree with continued improvement and spending every dollar wisely,” Vickers said. “But the City of Saint John has to be able to provide basic services for its citizens, like fire protection, police and maintaining infrastructure.”
“Some things that could really make a difference for Saint John, and other municipalities, like property tax or municipal reform have been kicked down the road for further review by this government, which is really just another way of saying they don’t want to actually deal with it. And things that could have an immediate impact, like allowing Saint John to have access to more of the property tax generated by heavy industry, which has a significant impact on the city in terms of costs, have been rejected altogether. That’s not looking out for the best interests of the city of Saint John.”
Vickers said the move to allow Saint John to maintain more of its industrial property taxes would serve as a catalyst for real municipal and tax reform province-wide.
“Municipalities throughout the province are seeing increased challenges in providing services for their residents. Change is required at the provincial level and I’m willing to sit down with other parties to address this in a non-partisan way to bring real change on this file.”