Municipal councils are working on their budgets for the year ahead and a number of municipalities are considering cutting spending on fire services in an effort to save money.

For the second year in a row, the fire department in Saint John seems to be taking the biggest hit.

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford is tasked with cutting more than $500,000 in spending.

“We’re going to do the best we can do, work with the finances, and it’s going to be stressful, but again, it was important for us to be part of a positive budget,” says Clifford.

He hopes to reduce overtime costs and find new ways to raise revenue for the department, but in a city with heavy industry and plenty of old stock housing, the firefighters’ union says the department has yet to recover from the last round of cuts.

“We only have to look back ten months when they axed 16 frontline firefighters,” says union president Paul Stackhouse. “We do not have the level of fire service that we should have in this city now.”

The fire department is one of the biggest budget items in Maritime communities, and for that reason, it is one of the first places to look when municipal leaders are strapped for cash and looking to save.

Last year the ax fell on the Halifax fire service, where more than $1 million was chopped from the budget, with layoffs mostly taking place among senior ranks and administration.

In Saint John, some say the budget ax could have cut even deeper at city hall.

“We have more employees now than when we had 90,000 people living here,” says John Campbell, a Saint John resident and close observer of municipal politics.

He also believes the fire department budget has become unaffordable.

“Even though you have the old stock housing, there is still only so much money to draw on,” says Campbell. “If you got a population making on average $24,000, I don’t care how old the housing is. It can only afford so much fire protection.”

At this point, there are no plans for further layoffs or to take trucks or fire stations out of service in the city.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron