Oct 18,2010 Tri City News

Transit improvements will cost Lower Mainland taxpayers.
Black Press file photo
By Diane Strandberg - The Tri-City News
Published: October 15, 2010 1:00 PM
Updated: October 18, 2010 12:13 PM

Higher property taxes or a vehicle levy?

Those are the choices Metro Vancouver residents will be asked to make when TransLink rolls out a public consultation process to get input on how to close a $400-million gap in Evergreen Line funding.

Friday, the TransLink board added a "transportation improvement fee" — otherwise known as a vehicle levy — to the list of options for raising $39.3 million to build the Evergreen Line and extend the United Boulevard from Coquitlam into New Westminster, or $68 million for these improvements and other transportation upgrades.

Until now, property taxes were the only way to quickly raise funds for the long-awaited rapid transit system but the board opted to include a vehicle levy even though there is no mechanism to collect the fees, which would range between $15 and $55 for the smaller package of transportation improvements and $30 to $90 for the full package. The charge would depend on the vehicle's engine size.

"Property tax is not a preferred way to pay for transportation," said TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie, who said the transportation authority's board drew that conclusion after hearing from the TransLink mayors' council this week.

The public will now be able to comment on the two funding packages and the options for paying for them either online or in person. There is a feedback form at www.translink.ca as well as an online forum where people can post their opinions.

As well, in the Tri-Cities, an event has been scheduled for this Sunday, Oct. 17 at the Executive Plaza Hotel, 405 North Road, Coquitlam from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Two other events are planned, one at the Athlete's Village tomorrow, Saturday in Vancouver and one next Saturday, Oct. 23 at the Chuck Bailey recreation centre, 13458-107A Ave., Surrey.

"We need to deliver this information by the end of the month," Hardie said in explaining the short turnaround time for public comment.

The property tax option, which was first proposed to pay for transportation improvements, was loudly criticized by the region's mayors. But Hardie cautioned that the transportation improvement levy will require a mechanism to collect it and "we don't have it."

Meanwhile, the property tax option is still on the table. Hardie said property taxes would have to raise $5 per $100,000 of assessed value (about $31 on a $600,000 home) for the smaller package or $9.20 per $100,000 of assessed value (about $54 on the same home) for the larger package of transportation improvements, which would include restoring funding to bike and road upgrades, and improving bus service.

According to TransLink, the mayors' council must decide on the funding source and project package by Dec. 31 in order to meet the deadline required for signed agreements so the Evergreen Line and the North Fraser Perimeter Road projects can proceed with the support of the federal government.

The federal government has committed $416.7 million toward the project under the Building Canada Fund. There is no deadline for using the money from Ottawa, as some officials have previously claimed.

But Hardie said signed agreements are necessary for the two projects to go ahead. The federal government has committed to contributing $65 million toward the $130-million NFPR project, which would bypass the current bailey bridge to Braid Street for more direct access to New Westminster and remove a traffic bottleneck.

According to Dale Parker, chair of the TransLink board, public comment is key to the decision-making process, who said in a press release: "Before a supplement can be provided to the Mayors’ Council and the Regional Transportation Commissioner, TransLink must consult the public on how to pay for proposed projects and that consultation must focus only on funding sources our legislation currently allows us to implement."