Cultural landmarks, sports teams threatened by Saint John budget cuts
SAINT JOHN -- Big spending cuts are coming in Saint John where city hall is trying to claw its way out of a $10 million hole.
Some say the impact may be unthinkable, even threatening city landmarks like the Imperial Theatre, which has been stunning visitors for more than a quarter century.
The iconic facility is itself stunned by the possibility the theatre may lose $500,000 in annual funding from the city -- a loss that could close the doors.
"If we are dealing with a 25 per cent cut, that is definitely one of the options on the table," said Angela Campbell, the Imperial Theatre's executive director.
The facility says there are few other options to offset the loss.
"We don't want to get into a position where we are increasing ticket prices so high that people then can't afford to come here," Campbell said. "That facility actually puts the community on the map."
Stephen Tobias has some sympathy for the financial bind facing city council, but he says a dollar value can't be attached to the Imperial Theatre.
"The city as a whole needs to maintain these kinds of facilities and services in order to be attractive for people to want to live here," said Stephen Tobias of the Saint John Theatre Company. "That's the key."
In an open letter released today, Mayor Don Darling said tough choices need to be made.
"Our sole focus must be addressing our deficit," Darling wrote. "If we do not address our deficit as a team, then we do not deserve the right to govern."
Facing a $10 million budget shortfall, the city is looking for new ways to save money or to make money, and it's not just cultural institutions like the Imperial Theatre that could be targeted. Sports organizations and playing fields are also under the microscope.
Field rentals are going up, again.
"We can live with the rates that they have this year," said Kevin Ferguson, the manager of the Saint John Alpines baseball club. "It's a reasonable increase."
But Ferguson is worried about possible increases next year and beyond.
"There are inflationary increases which I can understand, but 175 percent increase in field costs over a three-year period from last year will not make the team sustainable in the future," Ferguson said.
Tough decisions are coming and the mayor says he wants the deficit issue resolved before municipal elections in May.