Saint John police will be asked to accept a contract in the new year that could soon see their members making less than those in other major centres in the region.
Contracts for both the Saint John Police Association and the International Union of Firefighters expire on Dec. 31.
Currently, a first class constable in Saint John makes $94,627. Senior firefighters are paid $92,275.
Coun. Gary Sullivan, who sits on both the police commission and the finance committee, said he is hoping to keep salary increases for both police and firefighters as close to zero per cent as possible.
"The math is pretty simple," he said. "We can't afford to continue to pay employees more than we are bringing in in revenue."
Not much growth
Saint John has seen growth in its assessment base — the money it collects from property taxes — increase by just .59 per cent, .39 per cent and 1.8 per cent over the past three years, a three-year average of just under one percent.
The city is forecasting a revenue shortfall of about $11 million in 2021, when a three-year financial assistance package from the province expires.
In the meantime, new labour contracts, if the city achieves its aim, would result in city police making less than suburban neighbours in the Kennebecasis Valley.
Kennebecasis police officers will see their pay increase to $94,142 in January and to $99,817 by 2022.
Saint John Police Association head Duane Squires said his group is trying to remain hopeful about upcoming talks.
"We're looking forward to it, but it doesn't sound very positive right now," he said. "They're setting the tone early."
Fredericton ahead of Saint John
Firefighters in the Kennebecasis Valley will see their wages climb to $84,033 next year.
Fredericton police will make $97,359 in 2020, while firefighters in the capital already make $88,974.
Policing in greater Moncton is handled by Codiac RCMP, which pays its officers $86,110.
RCMP officers across Canada have recently unionized but have not yet begun negotiations for their first collective agreement.
They have not had a pay increase since 2017, and it is not yet clear what kind of salary increases their new union will be seeking when negotiations begin next spring.
"There are many cogs in the compensation wheel," said Brian Sauve of the National Police Federation.
Moncton firefighters are paid $85,582. As in Saint John, their contract expires at the end of December.
Heavy industry a big part of territory
Craig Melvin, the Saint John firefighters local president, could not be reached for comment.
In its 2019 Sustaining Saint John agreement with the provincial government, the city commits to a series of reforms, including "pay escalation and/or various restrictive clauses" in future collective agreements.
The report also commits the province to talks aimed at reforming the binding arbitration process, which has been blamed by municipal leaders — including those in Saint John — for much higher-than-average salary increases over the past decade.
First responders can't strike
In binding arbitration, the two sides submit their contract positions to a neutral arbitrator or to a three-person panel composed of a mutually agreed neutral arbitrator, one person named by the union and one named by management.
The process is used chiefly to settle cases where the labour group is not legally allowed to go on strike, as is the case with first responders.
The arbitration decision is final and binding on both sides.
Talks aimed at reforming binding arbitration have not yet been scheduled.
Halifax leads the way in the region when it comes to salaries for first responders. Firefighters with the Halifax Regional Municipality are are paid $97,251.
The contract requires their pay to be 96 per cent of the $101,000 paid to police officers.