Metro Vancouver mayors mull transit funding

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      If Metro Vancouver mayors reject raising property taxes to pay for TransLink’s expansion projects, the provincial government could revive the hospital tax.

      Langley mayor Peter Fassbender has raised this prospect as municipal politicians appear to be on a collision course with the province on the issue of transit funding.

      Many members of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, which is chaired by Fassbender, are opposed to raising TransLink’s share of the property tax. According to Fassbender, the province has some options.

      “One of them is to reinstitute the hospital tax on the region, which they took away when the region agreed”¦to form TransLink,” Fassbender told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I’m not sure that most people are aware of the fact that when that agreement was made”¦the province agreed to take hospital tax off the property-tax rolls.”

      He noted that Metro Vancouver is the only regional district in B.C. that doesn’t have a hospital tax—a levy used to partially fund health facilities. The province assumed this burden during the 1990s to create room for TransLink to collect a share of property taxes.

      “They [the provincial government] do have the power to reintroduce the hospital tax, which they are currently carrying on behalf of the municipalities in the region,” Fassbender said.

      TransLink has prepared two financial supplemental plans covering the period between 2011 and 2013. Both rely on raising property taxes.

      One plan lays out a $44.7-million-per-year increase beginning in 2012. Representing an annual average increase in residential taxes of $36.36 per household, this would fund the Evergreen Line and the first phase of the North Fraser Perimeter Road.

      A second plan, which TransLink wants the mayors to approve on December 9, calls for $75.8 million in new property taxes. This represents additional taxes of $61.65 for homeowners per average household per year. As well, taxes on commercial properties would rise.

      The second plan wouldn’t just bankroll the Evergreen Line and the North Fraser Perimeter Road. It would also finance other transit improvements, such as the addition of 425,000 annual bus service hours by 2013.

      A staff report included with the Friday (November 26) agenda for the meeting of the Metro Vancouver board recommends that the mayors reject both supplemental plans.

      “The way forward is to fund future improvements to the regional transportation system using primarily transportation user and transportation emissions-based fees,” the report states. “A vehicle registration fee would be a first step.”

      White Rock mayor Catherine Ferguson conceded that the province has the power to reinstitute the hospital tax, but she noted that this measure isn’t acceptable.

      “That’s just not a preferable way,” Ferguson told the Straight in a phone interview. “We want to have a fair taxation policy in place that is correlated with the use of a vehicle and the taxation, so there’s a connection.”

      Ferguson said that the mayors’ council and the provincial government signed an agreement in September of this year in which the parties committed to exploring funding options for transit.

      “One of the things that I think is really important that we need put in place is a sustainable funding policy for the long haul,” Ferguson said.

      In a phone interview, Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore said more time should be given for parties in the agreement to look for new sources of funding for transit.

      However, Moore acknowledged that the province may have the last word if mayors reject the supplemental plans. “TransLink falls underneath the provincial-government legislation, as do municipalities, so ultimately the provincial government can do as they see fit,” Moore told the Straight.

      TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie said that the transportation authority will continue to implement its current base plan if no supplemental plan is approved. This would mean no additional transit services.

      “I can’t answer that question because of course the Evergreen Line is a provincial project,” Hardie told the Straight by phone when asked what will happen if the mayors don’t agree to a property-tax increase. “You would really need to speak with the province about what their contingency might be in the event that the region simply doesn’t show up with its funding.”

      The province wants TransLink to commit to paying its $400 million share of the $1.4-billion Evergreen Line before the end of 2010. Construction of the 11-kilometre rapid-transit line is slated to begin next spring, with completion planned for 2014.

      Fassbender noted, “My understanding is very clear that the provincial government will continue to push the Evergreen Line ahead, and if the region doesn’t find a way to provide its $400 million, then the government has a decision to make in terms of what they can do.”

      Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Shirley Bond did not grant an interview by the Straight’s deadline.

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      Nov 25, 2010 at 10:18am

      I don't remember a discussion of a hospital tax during any previous election campaign ... to the Batmobile, my little Recallers!!

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      Evil Eye

      Nov 25, 2010 at 10:18am

      Ah yes, a discredited Liberal party forcing an obsolete metro system on the regional taxpayer, I wonder how much Bombardier Inc. pays into the Liberal party?

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      Poking the Evil Eye

      Nov 25, 2010 at 8:51pm

      Hey, it's Malcolm Johnston (aka Evil Eye)

      Malcolm, the only thing that is obsolete are your lies about Skytrain.

      There's nothing obsolete about Skytrain, that's why all the visitors to the Olympics praised Skytrain for it's excellent service.

      But of course, you never lets the facts stop you from spinning lie after lie.

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