As promised, Surrey is putting the pedal to the metal for a “yes” vote in the upcoming referendum on an increase in taxes for TransLink.
On Monday, Surrey council voted unanimously to endorse a yes vote, vowing to work diligently to engage, inform and encourage the passage of the plebiscite this spring.
This spring, Lower Mainland voters will be casting ballots on whether or not they support increasing sales tax in Metro Vancouver by .5 per cent to help pay for improved transit and transportation infrastructure throughout the region.
The bump in taxes is expected to generate $250 million annually for transit and road infrastructure.
“Surrey has long been in need of more rapid transit and transportation options, and the regional Mayors’ Council plan goes a long way in addressing those needs for our city,” said Mayor Linda Hepner. “The goal now is to ensure that residents understand just how much is at stake for Surrey with this plan.”
Communities south of the Fraser are among the fastest growing in the region. Over the next three decades, 380,000 more residents and 230,000 new jobs are forecast for this area.
Without the cash injection from the tax, Surrey council says roads will be increasingly congested and transit will be that much further behind the demand.
“It’s our turn to have the transit investment and service needed to move our residents and shape our growing city,” said Coun. Tom Gill.
Highlights of the plan for Surrey and the south-of-Fraser area include new Light Rail Transit (LRT) linking City Centre to Guildford and Newton Town Centre. LRT will also be constructed on the Fraser Highway from Surrey into Langley.
Also in the plans are road improvements, expanded rapid bus lines and a new Pattullo Bridge with wider lanes.
Delta hasn’t officially taken a position on the tax, but Mayor Lois Jackson noted the municipality’s residents are split on the idea.
“My concern – and I’ll be very up front about this – is the Mayors’ Council and TransLink have been so confidential in their discussion on all of these matters,” Jackson said, adding the secrecy hasn’t done much to engender trust among the public. “Now we’re expecting people to say, ‘What do you think?’
“The problem is people don’t know what the question is, let alone what the answer is they should be giving.”
Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, opposes the tax and said Surrey council has become too attached to taxes.
“There’s a big part of the equation that Surrey council seems to be missing, frankly in a lot of their decisions – frankly, affordability,” Bateman said Tuesday.
Last month, Surrey council passed a budget that included a new $100 levy, a 2.9-per-cent tax hike and a one-per-cent road levy, hitting the owner of the average home with a $162 increase – $278 if a suite is involved.
“What we’re seeing in Surrey is massive property tax increases, a roll tax and now a huge TransLink tax,” Bateman said. “You just can’t afford to do everything all at once.”
Bateman said households don’t behave the way government does, adding if homeowners can’t afford something, they don’t buy it.
Not so among elected officials, he said.
“Politicians see an opportunity for a new tax and they jump on it,” Bateman said.
The vote on the TransLink tax will be held this March.