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Mar 9,2007


Higher property taxes, transit fares expected

By Leneen Robb - Staff Reporter

The mayors of all three Tri-Cities municipalities, plus Belcarra and Anmore, will have a guaranteed seat on the revamped TransLink board.

They won't have much say in how transportation decisions are made in the Lower Mainland, however, as the 12-member board will soon morph into a 31-member "council of mayors" with representatives from Hope, Pemberton and all points in between.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon announced the changes Thursday, quashing rumours that his governance review of the TransLink board would end with the province taking ownership of Lower Mainland transportation planning.

Under changes recommended by a three-person panel, TransLink will be preserved, but its ties to the Greater Vancouver Regional District, its parent body, will be cut.

It will have the authority to increase fuel taxes by three cents per litre -Eup from the current 12 cents -Efor a revenue boost of $66 million next year.

"The gas tax will be taken from the expanded TransLink region, not the entire province, and must be matched by local money in the form of increased property taxes and transit fares," TransLink chair Malcolm Brodie said.

"It's not like you're taking three cents from all over the province. It's three cents from the region, and it's got to be matched by local money.

"So you're going to have to raise property taxes, probably raise the transit fares, in order to get the gas tax. So all the province has done is increase the access to taxation. They haven't given us sustainable sources of funding."

Financing changes include scrapping the parking tax, which the business community has long said is unfair.

When it comes to transportation decision-making, however, the power will no longer rest with mayors but with a board of experts appointed by the province, whose members will have expertise in planning, construction and operation of regional transportation systems.

The 31 mayors on the revamped board will have more of an advisory role.

Brodie said there were "many positive aspects" to the governance review, but added that he has serious reservations about the new governance structure, accountability and funding model being proposed.

"I'm concerned how 31 mayors - plus probably more, when you get First Nations involved and others - how that's all going to fit together and how you're going to make cohesive decisions," he said.

Former TransLink chair George Puil agreed, saying the new structure could be unwieldy.

"When you look at what they're proposing, they're going to replace a 12-member board of directors with four different bodies," Puil said, referring to the mayors' council, the board of professionals, an independent commission and the GVRD - which will no longer oversee TransLink but which still has a say on land use issues in the region.

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said although the TransLink board has been disbanded, it will continue in an advisory role until fall, when the province appoints 11 professionals.

"Will it work? Honestly, I don't know," Trasolini said. "I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt _ the most important part of all this is to understand that providing transportation infrastructure is very expensive, therefore, the funding part of it is very important."

Trasolini questioned whether the mayor of, for example, Lions Bay, will approve a property tax increase for residents to fund a project in another municipality.

"I am glad that they finally came out with it," he said of the governance review. "It awaits to be seen if it's going to work. I hope it does, because the region needs stable funding for transportation infrastructure."

For months, TransLink has been saying that if the provincial and federal governments do not contribute another $400 million toward the Evergreen Line -Ewhich has a budget of $970 million -Ethe project will be killed.

Trasolini said the governance changes mean that do-or-die deadline is now on hold.

Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson said the Evergreen Line remains the key transportation priority of Tri-Cities mayors.

She added that Falcon mentioned the line - which he said recently will only be built as a public-private partnership -Eduring his announcement.

"I heard the minister today, when he was talking, make it clear (that) his first mention of a priority was getting the Evergreen Line completed," she said.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young said he is still analyzing the governance changes and did not wish to comment.

- with files from Nelson Bennett, Richmond News reporter.

published on 03/09/2007

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