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BC Rapid Transit Company's SkyTrain car, called the Mark II 1300 and 1400 Series. (Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail/Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail)
BC Rapid Transit Company's SkyTrain car, called the Mark II 1300 and 1400 Series. (Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail/Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail)

Transportation

B.C. transit expansion plans in jeopardy Add to ...

Regional mayors say they will explore the possibility of cancelling all new transit improvements, except the Evergreen Line, if the province puts them in a position of paying for the changes through property taxes.

Those would include two new rapid buses, one on Highway 1 from Langley and Surrey, another on King George Boulevard in Surrey going out to White Rock, and 415,000 additional hours of service in the whole system by 2014.

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None of the mayors is even sure if it is legally possible to reverse a budget plan that they voted on.

But mayors say the issue will inevitably be on the table at the next mayors’ council meeting in April after Premier Christy Clark set off a bomb last week by rejecting their ideas for other ways to pay for the transit expansion.

“It is something we need to look into as another option if we do not have any other viable options. I am sure some of the mayors will want to know the answer,” said City of Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, vice-chair of the TransLink mayors’ council.

The mayors will be getting legal advice on whether it’s possible to amend or cancel the supplementary budget they voted on last year that includes those items.

“As we have never faced it before, I am hesitant to speculate beyond my suspicion that it would take a new supplement and a public process around it,” he said.

Mr. Fassbender personally believes mayors and the province can work out a solution for the $30-million problem, which amounts to only about $40 per household or vehicle in the region. But he acknowledges that not everyone will agree with him.

That supplementary budget – which is over and above TransLink’s base operating budget of $1-billion that is approved by a separate appointed board – included a set list of transit improvements and two mechanisms for paying for them.

A two-cent-a-litre gas-tax increase, about to kick in next month, was approved to bring in about $40-million a year for TransLink’s portion of the long-awaited Evergreen Line extension to the SkyTrain system.

As well, mayors reluctantly agreed to put up two years of property-tax increases to raise $30-million a year for the other items on the list. But it was only there in order to make the plan legal, with the understanding that the province would work with them to come up with some other funding mechanism before the tax increase was supposed to go into effect in 2013.

Several mayors were opposed to that, saying the province would back out of the deal in the end and leave mayors stuck with a property-tax increase, especially since they had less than a year to come up with a solution.

Any new mechanism, like a vehicle levy or regional carbon tax, would require provincial legislation. That would have to be introduced by the fall at the latest to be in place for 2013.

Ms. Clark has ordered an audit of TransLink, which she said she believes will find $30-million in efficiencies that could be used to pay for the new services, instead of any new taxes. However, mayors are dubious about whether there is that much to be found or whether it could be found by the end-of-year deadline.

Like Mr. Fassbender, TransLink mayors’ council chair Richard Walton and Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart say they are still hopeful about finding another solution besides either a property tax, which the mayors adamantly oppose, or a vehicle levy or regional carbon tax, which the Premier has now said she won’t support.

“Dialogue is going to solve this. If the province has said some things are out, we need to say, ‘If that’s not the one, which one is it?’ There are some solutions that will work,” said Mr. Stewart.

But mayors who opposed the supplementary plan in the first place are now likely to be pushing to get out of part of the supplementary budget.

“I would be supportive of that idea,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie. “I maintained all along that it was going to be difficult to hit the deadlines [for an alternative to the property tax]that were contemplated.”

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