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Corrigan says mayors buckled on property tax

Plan to subsidize new SkyTrain line includes two cents per litre gas tax surcharge and potential property tax hike in 2013

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan was out of town when the Metro Vancouver mayors' council on transportation held an emergency meeting about the Evergreen Line Wednesday, and he's none too happy with the results.

Corrigan spoke with the NOW while on vacation in Alberta, saying he was very disappointed that the council had approved a funding formula that suggested a property tax increase.

"When I come back I will raise the roof," he said, adding there was no reason to hold an emergency meeting on the issue at this time.

"It's not an emergency, just because some politician thinks it's an emergency," he said, adding it seemed as if those involved waited until "key people" had left the Lower Mainland before holding the meeting.

The council has been in talks with Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom about the Evergreen Line for the past few weeks.

Today, the council's vice-chairwoman, West Vancouver Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, announced TransLink had a formula in mind to cover the $400-million budget shortfall for the line, as well as other TransLink projects.

The plan includes a two-cents per litre increase to the gas tax, a graduated vehicle levy, a road pricing transportation improvement fee, and road levies for future projects.

This would be in addition to the 15 cents per litre that TransLink currently collects. It also recommends a property tax increase in 2013, or another long-term revenue source, such as a regional carbon tax.

Corrigan said the other mayors "changed their positions virtually overnight" on the property tax issue.

"They swore an oath in blood that they wouldn't agree to a property tax increase, but apparently it didn't mean much," he said.

The project is expected to cost $1.4 billion, according to the provincial transportation ministry.

The federal government would contribute $417 million and the provincial government would contribute $410 million. The provincial government has also agreed to cover an additional $173-million, and was looking for private partners for that funding last winter.

TransLink's portion was supposed to be $400 million, but its budget only allows for maintaining the current system at this time, not for major projects.

The supplemental funding formula, presented by TransLink, would go to the mayors' council this fall, as well as public consultation.

The new funding formula would raise $70 million in additional annual revenue for TransLink, according to Goldsmith-Jones.

The plan would allow the Evergreen Line project to move forward while the mayors look at longer-term funding options for it, she said.

It would also be used to upgrade SkyTrain and SeaBus stations, increase SeaBus sailings, add a B-Line in Surrey as well as more bus routes in Surrey and Langley, and cycling routes throughout the region.

"We really feel a strong, entire package has to be done ... And we don't want that to be through property taxes," Goldsmith-Jones said.

At the end of June, Lekstrom announced he was optimistic that work on the Evergreen Line could begin this year.

The 11-kilometre line would run from Burnaby to Coquitlam and Port Moody, ending in Port Coquitlam.

The preliminary project schedule estimated construction would begin at the end of 2010, to be completed by the end of 2014.

- With files from Kelly Sinoski,

The Vancouver Sun