Opinion

EDITORIAL: Who speaks for the homeowners?

Ordinary taxpayers who believed they’d be well served by the province’s transformation of TransLink into a more business-oriented model may soon have second thoughts.

The new appointed board of directors – nearly all with close business or industry ties – will soon vote on how they will apply a special $18-million property tax increase.

Not surprisingly, business groups like the Vancouver Board of Trade want to minimize how much they pay. They’re aggressively lobbying behind the scenes to make residential taxpayers share the load – a scenario that would see a $500,000 home pay about $13 extra each year.

It may seem fair, but this situation boils down to a broken promise. The $18 million to be raised would replace what TransLink collected in each of the last two years from its parking stall tax, which was abolished by Victoria after widespread opposition from business groups.

However, TransLink still needs the money to expand the transit system, so the province gave it the ability to levy extra property tax to make up the difference. That replacement tax was originally intended to apply only to business and industrial properties, not residential homes.

But a new round of lobbying by business groups ensued last spring, resulting in a further accommodation by Victoria: TransLink could collect the tax in whatever proportion it wants from any or all property classes, including residential.

So does the board now follow the original intent – as mayors are urging – and force business owners to pay the entire shot, equivalent to a 15 per cent increase in TransLink tax?

Or does it side with its friends in the high echelons of Metro Vancouver’s business world, spread the tax onto homeowners as well and make everyone pay about seven per cent more?

A public hearing is planned near Metrotown in Burnaby on Monday before the board decides the issue on March 28 in another closed-door meeting, for which directors will be paid $1,200 each. The amount of this potential tax hike is not a huge hit for homeowners, although any tax increase is unwelcome. Worse, however, is that this decision will be made in secret by an unelected board. And this may be just the first of many decisions by the new TransLink that pit the interests of business against homeowners or transit users or motorists.

None of this should inspire much confidence for those who don’t happen to be well-connected captains of industry and commerce.

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