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Round and round on TransLink

Mayor Lois Jackson frustrated that homeowners continue to be targeted to fund region's transportation plan

The frustration continues for Delta's mayor when it comes to TransLink.

Calling last Thursday's Mayors' Council on Transportation meeting concerning TransLink another fiasco, Lois Jackson says she's as discouraged as ever how the transit authority is still counting on collecting an additional property tax to fund an ambitious series of transit upgrades. The fact some mayors are leaving the possibility open doesn't help, she said.

"We have the plan, but we have no money. Therefore, we have to change the plan. It's just going on and on and on," she told the Optimist following the meeting.

Metro Vancouver mayors voted against a proposed property tax increase, instead telling the provincial government to come up with a road pricing policy by next February.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson put the motion forward in a vote weighted heavily by Vancouver and Surrey.

It passed, even though some mayors, including Jackson, were opposed.

Jackson said the motion wasn't to everyone's liking because the door remains open to the property tax hike if the province doesn't come back with more money.

"There was another motion saying there would be no property tax - period. That one was defeated and it was Vancouver, Surrey, Port Coquitlam and Langley City opposed. Their votes outweighed everybody else who was at the table," Jackson said.

Delta's mayor said an audit of TransLink found the transit authority has over $540 million in reserves, even though it's only required to have $150 million.

The region's mayors have been working with the non-elected professional board of TransLink to come up with new money.

Last year, the mayors agreed to a two-year property tax hike, but insisted other revenue sources be sought first.

The levy for 2013 and 2014 would have worked out to an extra $23 on the average home in the region. The mayors later back-

tracked after the province rejected a vehicle levy and using some of the province's carbon tax revenue.

TransLink recently outlined its 2013 draft base plan, which still calls for the temporary tax increase to provide $30 million annually for transit projects, including the long-awaited Evergreen Line.

TransLink, meanwhile, is facing service cuts because gas tax revenue has been dropping.

The B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Vancouver Board of Trade issued a joint statement last week calling for the Mayors' Council to approve the "time-limited" property tax increase, but Jackson wonders if that increase would ever go away once implemented.

On another front, the spectre of some form of road pricing, which could include tolling all existing crossings, including the George Massey Tunnel, remains a much talked about topic, although the province hasn't committed to such a funding model.

"One of the things I've found is that it's very difficult to toll something that's never been tolled. It has to be given for an improvement," Jackson said.

She said charging a small amount for all crossings (something as low as 50 cents each way) as suggested by some could begin another slippery slope.

Jackson said a toll on the tunnel would only be fair if drivers were guaranteed not be sitting in a traffic jam.

The Metro Vancouver board last week heard a presentation from an expert panel on transportation from the U.S. that suggested another system, one which charges drivers a few cents for every kilometre they drive. The rates would be different for peak and nonpeak times.

It's something Jackson believes might be a fairer system, although it remains to be seen if there's an appetite for such a scheme.

"It has to be fair, that's what I'm striving for. It makes no sense to charge a senior citizen living in Tsawwassen a property tax rather than a road tax on those who are actually using it. However, this is only an idea and it's not been researched enough," Jackson said.

The five-term mayor reiterated a key problem that's underlying the current dilemma, and that's not been addressed, is that transportation and regional planning are not done hand-in-hand.

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