Putting more buses on the road will take cash TransLink doesn't have, but for now cutbacks and restraint has helped it avoid a special increase in property tax.

Putting more buses on the road will take cash TransLink doesn't have, but for now cutbacks and restraint has helped it avoid a special increase in property tax.

Two-year property tax hike for TransLink scrapped

Automatic three per cent annual increase still proceeding

TransLink won’t add a temporary property tax increase of $23 per average home that had previously been approved and was to remain in place for this year and next year.

Area mayors had okayed the time-limited tax hike in 2011 as a backup measure in case new funding sources from the province didn’t materialize, although they fully expected Victoria would deliver.

When that didn’t happen, mayors last year indicated by a non-binding vote they wanted to scrap the tax hike, which would have generated an extra $60 million in property tax over 2013 and 2014.

TransLink initially warned last summer removal of the tax could trigger deep service cuts or project cancellations, because it was already struggling with revenue shortfalls, notably a drop in fuel tax collected.

Mayors countered late in the fall, vowing to axe the tax increase and blame the province for any service cuts that ensued if it refused to grant a new revenue source by February.

None was forthcoming but TransLink’s board has now agreed to remove the increase, saying enough offsetting money has now been saved through cost cutting.

Mayors in Langley, Surrey and White Rock had previously opposed eliminating the property tax hike, fearing that might torpedo the new Highway 1 express bus over the Port Mann Bridge and King George Boulevard B-Line.

Those projects are proceeding, but it will take more money than TransLink now has to fully implement them as originally proposed – higher frequency on the Highway 1 express bus and extending the King George B-line to White Rock.

There’s no money in the budget for other improvements proposed in 2012, including a broader bus service expansion and extending SeaBus service on Sundays and holidays.

The regional Mayors’ Council is expected to pass a TransLink-prepared supplemental plan to formally rescind the temporary property tax hike by May 1.

Metro Vancouver’s board endorsed the new plan last Friday.

Mayors continue to demand new cash sources for TransLink, including a regional sales tax of up to 0.5 per cent, an annual vehicle levy or a share of B.C.’s carbon tax, plus longer-term implementation of comprehensive road tolls.

Despite the latest decision, TransLink’s regular annual property tax increase is still proceeding.

Provincial law allows the transportation authority to raise its total property taxes, which have gradually climbed to almost $300 million, by three per cent each year without the mayors’ approval.

An owner of a home assessed at the regional average of $712,000 paid more than $230 to TransLink in 2012, while a business assessed at $2 million paid more than $3,000.

The bills for each property tend to go up by one to two per cent a year, not the full three per cent, because some growth in TransLink property tax comes from new construction.

Surrey Now Leader