Friday, October 29, 2010

N.B. municipal amalgamation divides opinion
Province re-visiting Finn report

(Posted by CBC NB News: Friday, October 29/10)

There are differing views about the possible amalgamation of communities in New Brunswick, as suggested by the Finn report two years ago. The newly elected Tory government plans to lake another look at the report, which recommended slashing New Brunswick's municipalities and local service districts to just 53 from more than 350.

The report — by Jean-Guy Finn, the former commissioner on the future of local governance — was shelved by the former Liberal government shortly after it was released in December 2008. The suggested mergers are meant to make providing services more manageable.

Fredericton Coun. Mike O'Brien supports the Finn report. Combining local service districts and municipalities would solve Fredericton's problem of residents and businesses locating just outside city limits, he said, and getting services without paying municipal taxes. O'Brien said there's also a plus side for unincorporated areas, since larger municipalities would have elected boards to represent everyone.

"Local service districts don't have anybody elected to represent them. The Finn report says everybody would have an elected representative," he said Friday.

That doesn't convince Linda Cogswell, who lives in the small community of Rusagonis, about 15 kilometres southeast of Fredericton. She wonders just how well she'd be represented by a board, based on population. The population of Rusagonis was 748 in 2001. "Our elected official might be covering Rusagonis plus Wirral. That is a big difference," Cogswell said. "So who's going to advocate for me?" Wirral is about 40 kilometres southeast of Rusagonis.

Cogswell said she's read the entire Finn report, and she is also concerned about taxes. It appears people in rural areas would end up paying more for services under amalgamation, she said. "We pay for our garbage pickup in our local service district from our tax base. We pay for policing services through our tax base. We also pay for fire protection," Cogwell said. "So I can't see what more we would need to pay for."

Cogswell said the Finn report raises more questions than it answers. She hopes public meetings promised by the Alward government will provide more information about how amalgamation would impact rural areas.
Official Opening Ceremony Held for New Artificial Turf Athletic Field Fredericton (October 29, 2010)

The official opening of a new, multi-use, artificial turf athletic field on Knowledge Park Drive today heralds a new sports era for Fredericton soccer, football, rugby and ultimate Frisbee players.
Residents of Fredericton can now enjoy a modern turf field that will offer a state-of-the art playing field for sporting enthusiasts. New Brunswick boasts a number of world-class athletes who have excelled on the provincial, national and global stages, and this new artificial turf field will help continue to develop strong, competitive athletes of all ages.
It is a perfect answer to the increasing demands being placed on the City's other athletic fields,. This all-weather field will be used extensively for all kinds of athletic events by all ages, especially by the youth of the greater Fredericton area, and will help attract regional, provincial and national tournaments in the years to come. It’s a great day for the City of Fredericton and for its recreation partners in neighbouring communities.
The field has already been booked for use during the Under 18 National Club Soccer Championships to be held in Fredericton in October 2011.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

City Awards $21.6 Million Grant-Harvey Centre Contract to Caraquet Firm

Fredericton (October 25, 2010) – City Council has awarded a $21.6 million contract to Foulem Construction Ltee, of Caraquet, to build the Grant-Harvey Centre, a multi-use sports and leisure complex at 600 Knowledge Park Drive. Foulem’s was the lowest of seven bids received

The construction costs when added together with work already performed, including site preparation costs as well as fees for design work, project management, as well as fixtures, furnishings, equipment, contingencies and other normal building costs, will bring the total cost of the project to $29,253,708, under the projected $29.35 million budget estimate.

“I’m very pleased to reach this milestone and to see construction of this beautiful new facility is about to begin,” said Councillor Steven Hicks, Chair of the City’s Community Services Committee. “This is an important investment in the future health and wellness of our community and a fitting tribute to two hometown hockey heroes, Danny Grant and the late Buster Harvey, for whom the building will be named.”

The steel and concrete two-storey complex features an 8,000 square-metre ground-floor footprint. It will feature an Olympic-size ice surface and an NHL-size ice surface and will be home to the men's and women's ice hockey teams from St. Thomas University and Fredericton High School. It will also accommodate other ice sports, including figure skating and speed skating, as well as offer an ideal location for trade shows and home shows.

The two-level complex will also offer a three-lane walking/running track on the upper level as well as a community event room, a multi-purpose meeting room and full kitchen facilities. The Olympic-size ice surface will have 500 seats for spectators while the NHL surface will feature seating for 1,500. There will be 10 dressing rooms and a referees' room in the complex.

The Grant?Harvey Centre will be the cornerstone of a 45-acre recreational hub. The grounds will include an artificial turf soccer/football pitch, a six-court indoor tennis facility, a two-acre, fenced dog-walking park and parking for more than 600 vehicles.

The City of Fredericton has approved a deal with Ice Kube Systems Technology that will see geothermal energy used to heat and cool the complex. The system will also have the capability to store extra thermal energy to serve other buildings on the site or in the vicinity.

The Province of New Brunswick and the Government of Canada are each contributing $3.5 million towards the project.

The facility, designed by Centreline Architects, of Saint John is expected to open late next year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

City a Finalist for Four International Awards for Liveable Communities

Photo of City a Finalist for Four International Awards for Liveable CommunitiesFredericton (October 18, 2010) – The City of Fredericton is a finalist for four International Awards for Liveable Communities in the LivCom Awards 2010, to be presented in Chicago November 4-8.

Fredericton is a finalist for the Whole City Award, for its community and corporate commitment to sustainability; two Environmentally Sustainable Project Awards, for its Green Matters and Green Shops initiatives; and the Bursary Award, worth up to £10,000 or $16,000 Cdn for its new Green Matters Certified program.

“This is another example of how our community is being recognized on a global stage for its commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship”, said Mayor Brad Woodside. “This is an exciting opportunity to share our best practices and successes and learn what other cities around the world are doing to make their communities more liveable.”

Each of the finalists from 50 countries around the world will be given up to 40 minutes to make a final presentation to the judges before the winners are announced during a gala awards ceremony on November 8.

Each year, communities at the finals of The LivCom Awards have exchanged best practices and practical experience, and have joined forces to address mutual challenges related to sustainability and liveability. The partnerships have inevitably led to mutual technical advances and more effective use of resources.

Communities are judged on how they are performing within the cultural, political, economic, geographic and climatic environment in which they are situated.

Three other Canadian cities are also up for awards – Vancouver and Chetwynd, British Columbia, and Montreal, Quebec.

The LivCom Awards were launched in 1997 and are endorsed by the United Nations Environment Program. LivCom is the world’s only awards competition focusing on best practices regarding the management of the local environment.

LivCom is non-political, embracing all nations and cultures. Its goal is to improve the quality of life of individual citizens through the creation of ‘liveable communities’.

Information about LivCom can be found at For more on the City’s sustainability programs, visit

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Southside Riverfront Trail To Be Closed for Major Upgrade

Photo of Southside Riverfront Trail To Be Closed for Major UpgradeFredericton (October 13, 2010) - Work gets under way this week on a major upgrade to the southside trail from the Lighthouse-on-the-Green at the bottom of Regent Street along the banks of the St. John River linking up with the pedway crossing Pointe-Sainte-Anne Drive. The work is being performed by Martin Landscaping Corp., the sole bidder on the project, at a cost of $362,098.

Trail users are advised this section of the Southside Walking Trail will be closed for about three weeks while the work is in progress. Detours signs will be in place to guide users around the construction area.

Along with the paving and a realignment of the trail, the work will include the installation of waste containers, benches, planters, concrete seating walls, tables for playing games like chess or checkers, bike racks, several varieties of trees including evergreens, oak, maple and serviceberry, shrubs, improved grading and new decorative light standards.

The project also includes an upgrade to the Regent Street Wharf area, making it easier for heavy equipment to access the area in the spring and fall when the boat docks are installed and removed. Downtown Fredericton, which owns the wharf, is contributing $50,000 towards the project.

The work follows on the heels of a project in September to pave the section of the trail from the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge to the Lighthouse

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

City, tennis association negotiating deal for indoor facility (as published in the Daily Gleaner, October 13/10)

Negotiations between the city and the Capital Region Tennis Association are continuing in order to draft agreements for the operation of a new indoor tennis facility.

Capital Region Tennis Association has been fundraising and working with the city for the past few years to try to dovetail its project with the city's Grant * Harvey Centre. Construction tenders should be awarded this fall as the city moves from site preparation to building the facility at Knowledge Park Drive and Alison Boulevard.

The city has letters of support for the Capital Region Tennis Association, as it has reached out to federal-provincial funding sources and turned to its own tennis groups for project funding.

"Right now, they're in the process of completing a design of that facility," said Wayne Tallon, community services director for the City of Fredericton.

The local tennis association hopes to have six indoor courts.

Tallon said he expects the group will be able to call its own project tenders by the spring. "They'd like to time or schedule their opening with the Grant * Harvey opening so we would have both facilities open at the same time," Tallon said. "Plus the Grant * Harvey Centre will be feeding the tennis facility with geothermal technology in order to heat and air condition their building."

Since the tennis group and city will share a heat source, they have to negotiate operation and program agreements, Tallon said.

The association is trying to raise $1.6-million for the project. The tennis association expects to make a formal announcement of its project soon, past president David Clark has told The Daily Gleaner.

Council pension proposal defeated - De-indexing | City workers applaud council decision (as published in the Daily Gleaner, October 13/10)

A proposal to de-index the pensions of city workers commencing Jan. 1 has been defeated.

Councillors voted Tuesday night to ask the city's superannuation board to sort through alternative measures to start reducing a $39.4-million pension fund deficit.

Coun. Marilyn Kerton introduced a motion to reconsider the proposed amendments to the pension fund, which was passed.

Then Kerton reintroduced the original motion that was passed by councillors Sept. 13. This time, however, the motion was unanimously rejected by council, which essentially scrapped the de-indexing plan.

Finance and administration committee chairman Coun. Mike O'Brien introduced a third motion to send the pension financing discussion back to the superannuation board.

The decision drew a round of applause from city hall employees who once again packed council chambers to show their support for the addition time to seek better solutions to bolster their pension account.

The provision was introduced when the pension account was flush with cash and before the financial market collapse of 2008-09, which reduced the earnings on investments in the fund.

The city has long argued that it shouldn't have to bring its pension fund into a balanced position over 15 years, which is what the legislation requires.

Instead, it wants the province to allow it to wipe out the deficit over 25 years. So does the City of Saint John, which is wallowing in a much larger deficit of $129 million on its pension account.

City leaders didn't get a hearing ear from the Liberals, but they're hoping Premier David Alward's government will listen. Mayor Brad Woodside said a meeting was held last Wednesday with the newly elected Conservatives in the Fredericton area.

"At the end of the day, together, we shall come back with a report to this council that is good for our employees, good for the people of Fredericton and everybody's happy. That's not an easy thing to do. That's the challenge to the superannuation board," Woodside said.

"We're going to work really hard to come up with something, but that's going to be a tall order and we might not come back with the exact number ... We'll work really hard, but it's not always easy to come up with something that will satisfy everybody," McConaghy said.

Woodside shot back: "I've made that clear that this is not for the faint of heart. There's five of you on there (on the superannuation board), if you think you can't deal with it, let me know and I'll find somebody who can.''

Wade Kierstead, president of CUPE Local 3864, said he didn't take offence at McConaghy's comments.

"The mayor has set an excellent mandate for the superannuation board ... but Coun. McConaghy is being realistic. It's all in a balance," Kierstead said.

Having 25 years instead of 15 to make up the pension deficit would be a help because it reduces the up-front cash demands for both employees and the employer, he said.

"It's the same as if you go out and you need to repay something over 15 years versus 25, obviously the 25 is better when you're waiting for the markets to rebound and overall improvement," Kierstead said.

"We just have to stick handle it along and make sure it's going in the right direction overall.''

Kathy Edwards, also a member of CUPE 3864, agreed.

"We were asking for more time to come up with solutions that would serve our city well, serve our staff well and into the long term for people after they retire," she said.

Edwards said if pension contributions have to go up, it would likely have to take place by July, but right now the numbers are speculative because they're based on past performance of the fund in a market downturn.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

List of new Cabinet members, Legislative Assemby, Province of New Brunswick
(12 October 2010)

FREDERICTON (CNB) - Following is a list of the new cabinet ministers who were sworn in today at the Legislative Assembly.
● David Alward: Premier, President of the Executive Council, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister responsible for the Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons, Minister responsible for Citizens' Engagement, Minister responsible for the Office of Government Review, Chair of the Policy and Priorities Committee of Cabinet
● Marie-Claude Blais: Attorney General, Minister of Justice and Consumer Affairs
● Robert Trevors: Minister of Public Safety
● Blaine Higgs: Minister of Finance, Minister of Human Resources, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Investment Management Corporation, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Lotteries and Gaming Corporation, Chair of the Board of Management
● Claude Williams: Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure (responsible for Transportation, Supply and Services and the New Brunswick Internal Services Agency)
● Bruce Northrup: Minister of Natural Resources● Craig Leonard: Minister of Energy, Minister responsible for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency of New Brunswick
● Mike Olscamp: Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries● Madeleine (Mado) DubĂ©: Minister of Health
● Trevor Holder: Minister of Tourism and Parks, Minister of Wellness, Culture and Sport
● Susan (Sue) Stultz: Minister of Social Development, Minister responsible for Seniors, Housing and Community Non-profit Organizations
● Martine Coulombe: Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour
● Jody Carr: Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Minister responsible for the New Brunswick Provincial Capital Commission
● Margaret-Ann Blaney: Minister of Environment, Minister responsible for the Status of Women, Minister responsible for Communications New Brunswick
● Bruce Fitch: Minister of Local Government, Minister responsible for Service New Brunswick
● Paul Robichaud: Minister of Economic Development (responsible for the Regional Development Corporation, Business New Brunswick, Invest NB, Northern New Brunswick Initiative, and Rural Affairs), Minister responsible for the Francophonie, Deputy Premier, Government House Leader

Friday, October 08, 2010

Artist-in-Residence Exhibition On Display at City Hall Gallery

Photo of Artist-in-Residence Exhibition On Display at City Hall Gallery Fredericton (October 5, 2010) – An exhibit of artworks produced during the Fredericton Arts Alliance summer Artist -in -Residence series is now on display at the City Hall Gallery. The exhibit will remain there until November 30.

The exhibition features works in a variety of media including: carvings, pottery, oil paintings, basketry, photography and more. Featured artists include: Susan Pierce, Joanne Barfitt, Shanie Stozek, Katherine Moller, John MacDermid, Derek Davidson, Marilyn Mazerolle, Jacqueline Bourque, Erin Hamilton, Carol Collicutt, WhiteFeather, Brian Dykeman, Tony Robinson Smith, Deanna Musgrave, Andrew Miller, Cynthia Ryder, Leigh Merritt, Ted Boothroyd, Gerard Beirne, Marsha Clark, Jasmine Cull, Michael MacQuay, and Barbara Telford.

Each of the local artists included in this exhibition spent a week in residency at the York Sunbury Museum in downtown Fredericton. Artists created a temporary outdoor studio providing the public with an opportunity to talk with them, learn about their inspiration and creation, and witness professional art in the making.

Fredericton City Hall Gallery is located in City Hall, 397 Queen Street. Gallery hours run from Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. There is no charge for admission.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ambassadors program expands its ranks, exceeds expectations
(as published in the Daily Gleaner, October 07/10)

The City of Fredericton welcomed 42 new members to its business ambassador program during a training session Wednesday. That brings the number of participants to 402.

"I am thrilled that we have such civic-minded people who go above and beyond to promote Fredericton during their meetings and travels," said Mayor Brad Woodside, as he deputized the new members. "When we introduced this program, we set a target of 300 members by 2010 and we have exceeded those expectations. Thank you very much for helping us tell the world that we have a wonderful city here and we're open for business."

Economic development officer Laurie Guthrie was credited by the mayor with creating the program in 2003 with an inaugural group of 30. "We now have a very successful ambassador program that continues to grow every year. Our ambassadors believe in our city, and we have provided them with a formalized education program, complete with online training materials, so when they are on the road, they can promote Fredericton as a smart, sustainable city offering a cost-competitive business environment, and balanced lifestyle," he said.

The goal of the Fredericton business ambassador program is to see Fredericton grow and prosper by attracting new businesses, residents, conferences, events and opportunities to the city. Ambassadors are equipped with a business-card-sized CD that they can distribute during their meetings and travels.

Anyone can become an ambassador. Business travellers, university faculty, professional recruiters and others who brush shoulders with potential business investors, ordinary citizens and leisure travellers can invite friends and family to locate here. Immigrant settlers to the city can also sing the city's praises to others overseas.

On Nov. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. at city hall, the city will host the 2010 awards ceremony and recognize a Business Ambassador of the Year. Nominations for the awards close Nov. 1.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

FREDERICTON POLICE FORCE HONORED (as published in the Daily Gleaner, October 07/10)

The provincial government has recognized the Fredericton Police Force for excellence in criminal investigations.

The Department of Public Safety recently handed out its New Brunswick Police Leadership Awards, and among the honourees was the capital city's police force.

"The Fredericton Police Force received the award for excellence in criminal investigations for its high level of competency in planning and organization, perseverance and skills during its investigations into numerous related violent crimes," the department said in a news release.

The New Brunswick Police Leadership Awards are presented for excellence in organizational innovation and criminal investigations.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

City Asking Residents to Use Paper Compostable Bags during Annual Fall Leaf Pickup

Fredericton, NB – The City of Fredericton is asking residents to use only paper compostable bags during this year’s fall leaf pickup program.

The recommendation comes after two years of promoting and testing different types of bags. Using paper compostable bags will keep thousands of plastic bags out of the landfill and allows for a smoother transition of fallen leaves from homes to the City’s composting facility.

The use of paper compostable bags is better for the environment,” said Mark Hymers, a senior engineer with the City’s Department of Engineering and Public Works. “Keeping plastic bags out the landfill will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also makes the leaf collection process less labour intensive.”

The City conducts a Fall leaf pick-up program annually during a two-week period in November. This year, the pickup will be held November 1-12 on regular garbage pickup days. The collected leaves are composted into topsoil and used on landscape projects throughout the city. In the past, all plastic bags used by homeowners had to be hand-emptied and separated during the pickup while paper bags are biodegradable and are compostable along with their contents.

In 2008, a pilot project was implemented in the Sunshine Gardens area of the city. Approximately 100 homes participated, with half of the test group receiving compostable paper bags, and the other half receiving a compostable plastic product. From curbside pickup to delivery at the City’s compost facility, the leaves were never emptied from the bags in order to test the decomposition of the bags at the compost facility over the winter. The paper bags performed better and were the preferred choice.

In 2009, the city promoted the use of plastic and paper compostable bags as part of the leaf pickup. Paper compostable bags went directly into the composting operation.

Plastic bags are becoming less and less acceptable and more residents are becoming environmentally sensitive. Using paper compostable bags will help solidify the City’s commitment to being more sustainable and decrease its environmental footprint.

Compostable paper bags are now available at all major home improvement and department stores. They are larger, more tear-resistant, and are easier for homeowners to use than the plastic equivalent.

The City will still collect any leaves in plastic bags this year but they will be taken to the City landfill along with regular household waste during normal garbage collection. Only paper-bagged leaves will be collected during the special fall leaf pickup program and taken to the City's composting facility.

HIGHLAND GAMES MAKES TOP 100 EVENTS LIST AGAIN (published in the Daily Gleaner, October 05/10)

The annual New Brunswick Highland Games Festival has been named as one of the Top 100 Events in North America in 2011 by the American Bus Association.

The association describes the games as excellent entertainment for tour groups and individual travellers.

"This designation provides the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival and the city of Fredericton visibility among professional tour planners," said games spokeswoman Karen Freeman in a news release.

She said the festival's mission is to celebrate Scottish and Celtic culture by bringing together hundreds of musicians, dancers, athletes, performers and enthusiasts.

"We look forward to hosting more tours as a result of this designation," said Freeman.

Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association, said in a release that the games are a don't-miss entertainment value.

The association launched its top 100 in 1982. It distributes 10,000 copies every year of its Top 100 Events in North America magazine featuring the winners.

Among the events named in 2010 were: the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the Quebec Winter Carnival and the Vectren Dayton Air Show in Vandalia, Ohio.

Studies show that one overnight visit by a motorcoach group can leave up to US$13,000 in a local economy.

Monday, October 04, 2010

(as published by the Daily Gleaner, October 02/10, by Heather McLaughlin)

The clock is ticking toward move-in day for a Taymouth family that will soon be the proud owners of its first home.

(Stephen MacGillivray Photo)
Mike Ross, director of operations for Habitat for Humanity Fredericton Area Inc., leans out of a window of the new home volunteers built.

Mike Ross, Habitat for Humanity's Fredericton-area director of operations, said supporters of the affordable-housing project rallied after a mid-August break-in caused some damage to the house, which is being built in the Delta Fredericton Hotel's parking lot.

A Fredericton company donated a new door for the home within two days of the incident and a law firm stepped up with further assistance. Habitat doesn't store tools or valuables at its work sites.

"We are almost ready to move it. We've got some crack filling and painting that we want to do, because it's easier to get volunteers here than it is to have them go to Taymouth," Ross said. "The foundation process in Taymouth is beginning."

New to the helm at Habitat, Ross said he's had a steep learning curve to get used to the stages and steps in the building process and to master scheduling. "Next time around it will be a lot easier, because I'll have a better idea of what is likely going to get accomplished," he said.
But he said he's been impressed by the productivity and commitment of volunteers and their upbeat attitude. "They work so darn hard, but they're having a good time," Ross said.

He said he's got lots of ideas for fresh projects and he'd love to do another off-site build at a public location, perhaps a shopping mall parking lot.
The non-profit group helps people of modest means own a home. The home is constructed with donated materials and volunteer labour, and the homeowners are assisted by receiving an interest-free mortgage through Habitat. Mortgage payments are fixed at 30 per cent of the family's gross income to keep the home's cost affordable.

The City of Fredericton and a private property owner have donated the land needed to allow for another Habitat home to be built in 2011. City councillors recently passed a resolution to donate a small strip of land at 60 Eatman Ave. to Habitat. A neighbouring property owner at 58 Eatman Ave. will donate land to be added to the city's public right-of-way as part of the land trade agreement. The end result of the property transfers is an building lot to be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Property owners who make land donations to the group are entitled to receive a tax receipt for the value of the donation. "That is great news," Ross said of council's approval of the transaction. "Partnering with the city and a generous citizen to see this go forward is terrific, it's great.
"What we need to have happen is that this just be the beginning of many such transactions."

The city has two other properties that would suit the organization's home-building requirements, but unlike Moncton and Saint John, Fredericton has taken the position it won't donate the land.

Ross said he'd like to see the municipality rethink that policy because the end result is that the city will get a new taxable property. He said he understands that the city wants to make money off surplus land, but the cause is worthy.

"If the city can be giving big bucks to the university and organizations like the Y, then giving a parcel of land that is lying fallow and that Habitat can turn into a parcel of land that is going to be creating tax revenue for the city forever that should be a good thing," Ross said.

Coun. Mike O'Brien, who sits on the city's affordable housing committee, said he's been asked to join the Habitat board and he's accepted the invitation. Council discussed its land donation policy awhile back, but unlike Moncton and Saint John, Fredericton doesn't have the same availability of vacant land. "They have a lot more land ... in the proper location," O'Brien said.

Land in Fredericton close to a bus route, shopping and a medical centre is more scarce and more valuable, he said. O'Brien said the city has identified a couple of properties that it could sell for about $30,000.
He said if Habitat could raise money through public and business donations to purchase the sites, the city will work hard to keep the land value in a reasonable range.

The city councillor said Exit Realty and corporate sponsors stepped up to the plate and purchased a piece of private property to aid the organization.
The city also created a developer's land discount provided the builder agrees to incorporate affordable housing in a new development

City Pensions

Following is the October 04/10 podcast of CBC NB Radio 99.5 host Terry Sequin's interview with Fredericton Councilor Mike O'Brien on the employee pension deifcit issue
(as published by the Daily Gleaner, Saturday, October 2/10)

The next batch of city debt will be sold via the New Brunswick Municipal Finance Corp.The city applied Friday to the provincial government agency, which helps municipalities in the province market their debt in the financial markets, to sell debentures to lenders willing to back the city's debt.

"There's probably one small borrowing left after that," O'Brien said. "That includes all the funding for the $42-million office complex which we do recover through the rent."

The city is financing a new downtown office building for the provincial government, but the province's lease payments will see the city reimbursed for the total cost of the project, O'Brien said.

Once the city collects the construction cost of the office complex through the 20-year lease deal with the province, it will have recovered its $42 million investment, O'Brien said.

That will bring the city's overall debt for major capital projects down to $78 million. The city has already received approval from the Municipal Finance Corp. to borrow nearly $34.8 million. That includes $18,825,000 for its downtown east-end convention centre project, another $8,675,000 for its new parking garage alongside the convention centre and $7.3 million for the north side fire station.

The next lump of debt to be financed is: $7,992,984 for the convention centre; $2,507,016 for the parking garage; and $500,000 for the north side fire station, for a total borrowing of $11 million.

O'Brien said there will be a slight delay in receiving the tenders for the construction of the Grant * Harvey Centre. Bidders have asked for an extra week to prepare and submit prices. "The prices will still be coming in and assuming that somebody comes in within budget, that will be coming to the last council meeting in October," the finance committee chairman said.
The city is continuing to work on its 2011 operating and general fund budget.

A new expense that will have to be worked into the budget plan is operating funds for the downtown convention centre. O'Brien said the city is expecting the convention centre will run deficit budgets during its early years. "The ideal situation is for it to almost break even," O'Brien said. "Like any other business, it takes a time for it to ramp up."

O'Brien said the city takes a loss on the operation of some facilities because of the community economic or cultural benefits that are derived.
The city-owned The Playhouse, for instance, isn't a money-making venture for the city, but benefits the city.

"If we do it right and market it right, the way I look at it, if you had a choice to have a convention somewhere in New Brunswick, why wouldn't you want to come to Fredericton?" O'Brien said. "If it breaks even that would be beautiful because the economic spinoffs to the community will be phenomenal."
Government will face pressure to change rules
(Published in the Daily Gleaner, Monday October 4th, 2010)

Markets Cities say more time is needed for pension funds to rebuild
The ink will barely be dry on premier-elect David Alward's list of cabinet choices before Fredericton and Saint John municipal leaders start clamouring for meetings on pension issues.
Fredericton's finance and administration committee chairman Coun. Mike O'Brien said the idea of Fredericton officials and city workers creating a common front arose during discussions with city employees, who have been meeting with councillors individually to talk about the proposed de-indexing of their pension fund.
"They're obviously trying to clarify their position a bit better and vice versa," O'Brien said.
The city's superannuation board had recommended increases to employer-employee contributions to start offsetting the deficit, but council decided on its own to consider de-indexing the fund.
Dozens upon dozens of emails opposing de-indexation started flowing immediately to elected officials. City workers swamped council chambers and some were turned aside for lack of room Sept. 12, when first and second reading was slated for the de-indexation amendment.
At that meeting, Coun. Marilyn Kerton put forward a notice of motion that she'll introduce a new motion in two weeks not to de-index the pension fund. Kerton has signalled that she doesn't want to see pensions de-indexed starting Jan. 1. She wants council and city workers to thrash out possible ways to start eliminating a $39.4-million pension deficit without removing annual cost of living adjustments. City workers get two-thirds of the annual rise in inflation.
Union and non-union workers have said they would sooner pay higher pension premiums than forfeit the pension provision, but the city is worried about paying its share of the annual cost hikes.
O'Brien has said it would cost the city $335,000 in 2011 to match the employee contributions. To balance the pension fund over 15 years instead of a longer period would mean escalating contributions year over year up to $905,000 each from city coffers and from workers between years three and 15.
O'Brien said he has agreed that workers and city representatives should approach the provincial government jointly to make a pitch to alter pension funding rules. "We're setting that in gear," he said. "I'm contacting some of the MLAs and the staff are as well."
O'Brien said Fredericton isn't the only municipality to face a pension deficit due to the Pension Act's timelines for balancing the fund. Saint John's pension fund is $129-million in debt and O'Brien said councillors in the port city are facing the prospect of a nearly 15 cent tax rate hike just to deal with it.
He said Saint John is going to ask that it be allowed to rebalance its fund over 25 years, instead of the legislated 15, and get an extra year's grace to do its actuarial filing.
"That's all we've asked," O'Brien said. "If they gave us 25 years instead of 15, and if they gave us one more year to do a filing - which lets us have an up-to-date valuation because markets have recovered slightly - that changes the water on the beans completely.
"So what I would like to do is to meet with some council reps and the employee reps, with our MLAs and meet with the brand new Justice minister whomever is sworn in," O'Brien said. "It's affecting all municipalities."
Unlike a private enterprise, municipal governments aren't going to fold up or close their doors, so there's no risk to the province. The city has tried to convince past governments to amend pension rules, but with a new Conservative government taking power, O'Brien said it's time to make a fresh appeal.
In Saint John, city manager Patrick Woods has said that the shortfall in the pension account is largely the result of the financial market collapse in 2007-08, longer life spans among retirees, and the need for more conservative investment earning assumptions.
Saint John, like Fredericton, has to start making payments retroactive to the beginning of 2010, but it wants to defer payments until 2011. Saint John wants the province to allow it to repair its pension fund with payments over 25 years rather than 15. As with O'Brien, Woods has said a municipality can take more time to pay its deficit because there is no threat the city won't be around in the future to make payments.
With files from Canadaeast News Service