– Metro mayors fold at TransLink poker; Some think Victoria would have paid up

Canwest News Service

Maverick Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan wanted Lower Mainland mayors to call the province’s bluff when it came to TransLink’s funding shortfall.

But instead of voting to hold the line on funding — and forcing the province to cut back on service — they blinked.

Friday, the mayors agreed to wring another $130 million in revenue a year from the region’s residents through higher gas taxes and transit fares.

Money will also come from the province to replace $57 million in taxes on commercial parking it expected, but that will be wiped out by implementation of the controversial Harmonized Sales Tax next summer.

“They [mayors] were not prepared to call the province’s bluff,” Corrigan said after the meeting, coincidentally held in his own city.

“Give one to the province — they stared down local mayors at the poker table. The local mayors folded.”

The mayors’ council on transportation met Friday to choose from options provided to them by the new professional board running TransLink — and Corrigan and Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini tried to use the meeting to get their counterparts to force a showdown with the province.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics looming, Corrigan argued that it was time to force Victoria to face up to the fact there’s not enough money at the municipal level to pay for the region’s transportation needs.

“It takes the stress off the provincial government going into the Olympics that this has been resolved,” he said.

The mayors could have applied pressure to the province by choosing the “base-case” plan recommended by TransLink’s board.

The unpalatable plan, which would not have have required any new funding, would also have resulted in significant cuts — including 39 per cent of conventional bus service, more than 23 per cent of other transit and a 75-per-cent cut to the major road network’s operations, maintenance and renewal budget.

Maintaining the status quo — which the mayors chose by a margin of 98-16 in a weighted vote — wasn’t acceptable for Corrigan, who called it “a decision that takes us nowhere.”

Corrigan didn’t think the province would have let the cuts to happen.

But the rest of the mayors were not willing to risk those cuts, said Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

“I don’t think there are any mayors across the region that would like drastic cuts in their community,” said Watts, chair of the mayors’ group.

Watts is pinning her hopes on a promise made at a meeting earlier in the week with provincial Transportation Minister Shirley Bond.

Watts said Bond her group “we would be working together to develop long-term initiatives to move forward and “we will take her at her word.”

In an interview from Prince George, Bond confirmed her willingness to work with the mayors on “long-term sustainable funding.”

“That’s something all of us are going to have to work at,” she said.

But Bond said she’s waiting to read the soon-to-be-released comptroller-general’s report on TransLink service and funding before saying anything more specific.

“Whatever that report says will be the framework for the discussion that takes place,” said Bond.

Recommendations could be fiscal — and about TransLink is governed.

TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast said the mayors’ decision rights a “financial imbalance” that would have seen his South Coast B.C. Transportation Authority facing a $150-million deficit in 2012 it isn’t legally allowed to run.

Despite the vote, there will still be some cuts, Prendergast said.

What the vote failed to provide for was the long-awaited Evergreen Line rapid-transit project, or any more bus service — although it will allow for additional cars for the West Coast Express.

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Funding stabilization

What the new plan means for you:

A decision by the region’s mayors to keep TransLink operating at its current levels means Lower Mainland residents will have to pay an extra $130 million annually — on top of what they already shell out — to maintain present service.

According to TransLink, the impact breaks down this way:

– An average car owner would pay another $4 per month for the extra 3 cents per litre of fuel tax (TransLink already gets 12 cents of the fuel tax).

– The holder of a one-zone monthly transit pass would pay an additional $8 per month (before federal tax) beginning in 2010.

– A driver who pays for a monthly parking spot in downtown Vancouver will pay an extra $28 per month if the Parking Sales Tax is increased to 21 per cent from 7 per cent.

– A car owner of a vehicle like a Ford Focus would pay $7.50 per month if the Transportation Improvement Fee is implemented.

— Source: TransLink

fluba@theprovince.com

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