Mayors face tax dilemma

 More thoughts on the TransLink/regional mayors funding debate.

What I do not see is any hint of fiscal responsibility from TransLink, just demands for more money with dire threats on what will happen if funding doesn't come through.

In South Delta, three bus routes, the C-84, C-89 and the 609, which operate at 60 minute headways or better, during the weekday, carry fewer than 25 passengers a day between them! One must ask the question; "How many bus routes are carrying fewer than 25 passengers a day?" Is this the example of TransLink's definition of an economic service? if so, maybe we can do without TransLink's extravagance with our tax monies.

Public transit is not a social service, though many transit advocates and politicians believe that it is, with the result of a very expensive transit service that in the end, does not provide the service levels that would provide an attractive alternative to the car.

What TransLink wants funding for is a dated metro system, which its passengers are supplied (in many cases by a forced transfer) from an unattractive (from the customers view) bus service. Pre loading ridership with students with U-Passes and various other concession fares has made the regional transit service appealing only to the poor, the elderly and students; a sure sign that the transit system is not just broke financially, but broken completely.

Regional mayors should put an end to TransLink's misery and let the provincial government take it back so the Premier and MLA's can once again play trains on their own.





"TransLink . . . should allow the residents who will have to pay this new tax to vote on it. . . . Given that residents do not directly elect their TransLink directors, the only way for the board to ensure real accountability on this levy and any other new tax, is to put it to a referendum. . . . The only reason TransLink needs this new revenue is because . . . by imposing SkyTrain, the NDP doubled the cost of rail transit construction, for less service . . . and now local taxpayers are being forced to pay the price."

Gordon Campbell, Liberal Opposition leader, Oct. 13, 2000

Such games politicians play.

Ten years and one month later, as it neatly side-steps the hot-potato vehicle levy, a TransLink board appointed by Premier Gordon Campbell and his then transportation minister Kevin Falcon, shows no sign of holding a referendum on its latest idea — an increase to its tax on Metro Vancouver properties.

– ot even indirectly elected, the board needs only a stamp of approval from the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation to increase the tax on residential and commercial properties in the region.

A report released on Nov. 9 by board chairman Dale Parker, proposes an increase of $8.91 per $100,000 of assessed value, or approximately $62 a year for an average residential property.

Commercial property owners would face increases between $43.2 and $59.5 per $100,000 of assessed value, depending on building classification.

TransLink has given no hint as to whether properties in light or heavy industrial zoning fall within the parameters of its "commercial" revenue expectations.

Given its previous angst over the tax-multiplier gap between residential and business properties, discussed in this space on July 21, it will be interesting to hear what the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has to say about the TransLink proposal.

Also enlightening will be the reaction of the mayors' council itself when, yet again, it considers the property-tax idea at its upcoming meeting on Dec. 1. This is because TransLink and Transportation Minister Shirley Bond appear to have given the council little option but to relinquish its earlier opposition to any suggestion that TransLink be allowed to eat further into municipal taxation territory.

So — if members of the council do change their minds at the December meeting, and assuming our not-yet-resigned premier has no intention of allowing Metro property owners the referendum that, 10 years ago, he said was essential to keep TransLink accountable, what can North Shore residents and businesses expect for their additional dollars?

Well, according to its Buzzer on-board communications pamphlets, TransLink has four priorities going into 2013. According to the three-year plan, 10-year outlook of former CEO Pat Jacobsen, today's priorities are:

– maintaining services;

– keeping its infrastructure in a state of good repair;

– upgrades and expansion.

The first two priorities are included in the agency's Funding Stabilization Plan; while upgrades and expansion require additional funding if they are to proceed.

Dare I write in a North Shore column that one of the planned upgrades — but only if we agree to more property taxes — is, pause for the drum-roll, an increase in SeaBus service?

– eedless to say, mainstream media coverage of the property tax announcement has regional TransLink-watchers in a tizzy; and none more so than the bloggers to a CBC news report.

One PeterF, a blogger more informed as to the internal discussions of the mayors' council than most, said this on Nov. 10:

"The mayors' council has argued that a share of the carbon tax go to transit. . . .

It also argued for container movement fees, to help offset cost of new truck corridors. . . .

It has considered, but not adopted a recommendation to reduce basic car insurance, and add a 'road-use fee' within the region. Some kind of black box that would record movements would be needed. Perhaps only for commercial (or) industrial vehicles? This would essentially be more of a 'user-pay' system."

Then he continued with this remarkably open revelation:

"(The council) also recommended a less expensive ground-oriented LRT instead of the Evergreen Line, and was told by the feds that they would not contribute unless it was SkyTrain."

Since Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender just happens to chair the TransLink mayors' council, is it a stretch too far to wonder if he and blogger PeterF are one and the same?

If, indeed, the two are one, good on you for doing that, Your Worship; we taxpayers appreciate hearing the straight goods.

Here is some more straight-shooting from PeterF:

– On the carbon-tax proposal: "(It) was turned down by the province, at least until 2013." How come? Did Campbell not tell us he was applying the tax to gasoline to discourage harmful CO2 emissions? Does transit not do that?

– On container movement fees: "Neither the feds nor the province, or the Port Authority liked that." No surprise there.

– On reduction of basic car insurance: Why would we expect the premier to allow that, when Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced only recently that $778 million "surplus income" from the optional insurance component of the ICBC operation would be pilfered over the next three years to pad the ailing provincial general revenue account?

As to why the internationally popular, lower-cost LRT (light-rail transit) option has never been chosen over SkyTrain — well if PeterF could bring that answer out of the woodwork in which it has been hiding since around 1996, this writer would send her fee for this column to the North Shore Food Bank.

If nothing else, however, this latest missile from the unelected TransLink board raises several important side issues:

– If Metro Vancouver's proposed Regional Growth Strategy goes ahead, what will be the implications of the TransLink tax increases for municipal property-taxpayers outside the region's current boundaries?

– What are the legal rights of citizens and commercial property owners in British Columbia not to be taxed by appointed boards or quasi-elected councils?

– Do taxpayers, especially on the North Shore, believe they receive good value for the dollars sent to TransLink?

– Are we at the stage where we should at least consider the possibility that our municipalities need to amalgamate if we are to have any hope of influencing the outcome of regional governance decisions? Or are we content just to keep paying a disproportionate share of regional taxes "for the greater good?"

– Lastly, and to paraphrase the October 2000 words of Campbell himself:

"If TransLink wants to make the argument that this is a fair tax, necessary (to fully implement the priorities it has outlined) and not simply another cash grab from taxpayers who are already overtaxed, it should have the courage to take this directly to the people."

Dream on, Lizzie; dream on.

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2 Responses to “Mayors face tax dilemma”
  1. Justin Bernard says:

    Public Transit IS a social service. There will be riders who need the service, even if they get cheaper fares than others.

  2. zweisystem says:

    In Europe it has been found that if a public transit system is operated as a social service, it fails to attract ridership from the all important motorist. What happens is that marginal transit services suck great portions of money away from the main service, giving not only lower productivity, but a very poor product. Translink is falling into this trap, by providing premium and expensive metro service on three routes. a passable bus service in Vancouver and dreadful bus service elsewhere. It would have been far better and cheaper to improve bus service where needed and eliminating bus service that is deemed redundant. Bureaucrats love social services because they get to spend huge amounts of money that are deemed “for the publics good“, whether in reality they are or are not.

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