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Mar 19,2008 Tri City News

Business leaders and homeowners agreed on one thing Monday night: They can’t afford to pay higher TransLink taxes.

The tussle over how an $18-million property tax hike should be applied was argued before TransLink’s new appointed board at a public hearing in Burnaby.

Business groups urged the board to make residential properties help pay the planned tax — which replaces the revenue TransLink lost when the province killed its controversial parking tax.

But not all homeowners were willing to go along with that.

“I’m angry at being taxed to bloody death by people like you,” Surrey pensioner Peter Scott told directors. “I myself spent 16 years as a professional Canadian soldier and now I find that the enemy is my different levels of government and appointed boards?”

An east Vancouver man said his TransLink property tax has tripled in 10 years.

“I’m getting pushed out of my city,” he said, urging the board to find a more creative solution.

“The people who made this country are not bottomless pits of money,” added Burnaby resident Achilles Foufoulas.

The special property tax levy to replace the parking tax was originally to go only on business properties but the province last year bent to business lobbying and gave TransLink’s board the option to include residential property as well.

That could mean all properties paying a blanket 7% extra to TransLink to raise the $18 million, instead of businesses paying a steeper 15% by themselves.

Park the Tax Coalition co-chair Ted Williams said the expected extra $13 hit to the owner of a $500,000 home from the replacement tax pales next to the $130 to $420 bills most small business owners would face.

“Why should residential not be included in paying their fair share of this tax?” he asked.

“Businesses already pay five times more TransLink property taxes than equivalently valued residents,” argued Canadian Federation of Independent Business rep Laura Jones, adding businesses feel they’re “easy prey” for tax hikes because they hold fewer votes.

But she agreed residents are also stretched to the limit, especially since many struggle to pay large mortgages in Metro Vancouver.

Jones urged the new board to cancel the imposition of the replacement tax for now while it weighs TransLink’s plans and funding needs.

Vancouver Coun. Peter Ladner, a former TransLink director, said the tax is too much to place entirely on business groups, noting it would be particularly onerous for City of Vancouver businesses, where property values are highest.

Ladner also said it was wrong for the province to have put the issue in the hands of TransLink’s appointed board.

“This board has been put in an impossible situation which is quite intolerable from a democratic point of view,” he said. “I don’t think it’s correct that unelected officials should be deciding on the allocation of tax funds.”

He said the board should hand the issue back to the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation to decide.

TransLink chair Dale Parker ruled that idea out, saying the nine directors will make a decision one way or another at their March 28 closed-door meeting.

Monday was the only formal public hearing on the topic, but Parker said more delegations can be heard during a one-hour period at the beginning of the board meeting. About 50 people attended the hearing.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said many comments are also coming in through a phone line and TransLink’s website. “It’s mixed,” he said of the feedback so far. “We’ve had property owners say maybe it’s not fair to put it all on business, because everybody benefits when the system gets better.”

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