Part 1 in a four-part series
St. John’s Coun. Danny Breen has proposed seven financial priorities for the capital city over the next two years.
At its last meeting, Breen passed out an inventory of issues where he’d like the city’s finance committee to focus its time.
He became chairman of the committee in October when Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff’s two-year term expired.
Recently, Breen told The Telegram all five of the city’s standing committees should have a similar list of goals, presented by the chairperson when they take over.
“Sometimes the committee meetings tend to deal with ... routine issues and I felt that each committee should really have a strategic plan,” Breen said.
Once he took over the committee, he sat down with the city’s finance department to develop his list of priorities.
But Breen said all the points are interrelated, so the list is non-hierarchical.
The seven priorities presented to the committee were:
• Enhanced public pre-budget consultations;
• Moving towards a three-year budget cycle;
• Finding additional efficiencies and identifying new revenue opportunities;
• Determining the funding status of the city’s pension plans;
• Monitoring the city’s current and projected debt;
• Figuring out what to do with the city’s current surplus;
• Achieving a new fiscal arrangement between the city and the province.
“For each of these issues, there will be a position paper from staff, with analysis and recommendations, as opposed to (council) sitting around and trying to figure it out,” Breen said.
Reaching a new fiscal agreement between the province and municipalities has been a major focus for St. John’s council since this past fall, and attention to the issue has ramped up in anticipation of the provincial budget.
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But Breen isn’t holding his breath that much will change anytime soon.
But he is hoping the province will return to a predictable, ongoing, capital works cost-sharing program for municipalities.
As illustrated recently by Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, the city also wants the government to rebate the provincial portion of the HST that municipalities pay to the province.
“We have to pay HST (when we build) affordable housing. That’s just wrong,” said Breen. “We’re building 23 more units down in Pleasantville, we have 400 now.”
He said if the city didn’t have to pay the HST on that project, it may have been able to add even more, much needed housing units.
Overall, Breen figures the city pays the province about $10 million a year in HST, which could be used to address aging infrastructure and other capital works projects.
The city would also like the province to turn over a portion of the provincial gas tax to municipalities to help pay for things like road repairs.
“We need a new fiscal relationship with the province that recognizes the services that the citizen’s (of St. John’s) need,” said Breen.
While the province has many avenues to collect revenue, Breen noted that the city largely has to rely on property taxes.
His one worry is that the province may reduce what it spends of infrastructure, or that it won’t bring back multi-year capital funding, which was put on hold in last year’s budget.
“Without a multi-year capital works program, cost shared with the provincial government, these major projects can’t be done. We juts don’t have the ability to do them,” said Breen.
In tomorrow’s Telegram, part 2 in this series will look at the city’s current debt and surplus.