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TransLink minister muses about a new kind of development tax to support transit … and mayors are worried

February 16th, 2017 · 2 Comments

There’s been vague chatter for months now indicating that the province has its eye on the profits developers are making as they build towers next to SkyTrain lines (calling Derek Corrigan at Brentwood) as a possible source of revenue for big new spends on transit.

But TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender amped up the temperature on that lately by going public with talk about a “transit-supporting levy” that has been proposed (among other things) at a couple of roundtables he’s held recently.

Every mayor I talked to said it’s worth having the discussion about taking back some of the windfall land-value increase that developers get along those lines and using it for transit.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said any discussion about a funding source that can be counted on as an ongoing and reliable source of transit money is worth having.

But the mayors are anxious. First off, they see that money as unequivocally theirs, not the province’s. They come up with the official community plans, they do the work of shaping where density will go, they take the heat from residents who don’t like those plans. They want control over that money to decide which community services it should go into.

Secondly, for cities like Surrey, the idea of adding on yet another tax to development, when it is struggling already to attract developers to its projected new downtown, is worrisome. My stories on this are here and here.

Mr. Fassbender said he doesn’t want to go into the cities’ piggy-bank and there is no discussion of where the revenue will go. But there are only a few options, as anyone can see.

The province can do what cities have asked for already last December, and create a new development cost charge whose money would be dedicated to transit. (Cities have that already for roads, water, sewer and park acquisition.) And then the province could say, Yes, all that money is yours. And since you have it, your share of all transit projects should be higher. (Currently, since the Trudeau government stepped in, the share is 50 per cent federal, 33 per cent provincial, 17 per cent municipal. The cities have said it should be 50/40/10, given the share of the tax pie each level has.)

Or the province could say, let’s talk about splitting it and we’re open to adjusting the share each of us pays based on that revenue.

Or it could just take part of it and use it for the standard 33 per cent it has always maintained is its fair share.

No one really knows which way this discussion is going. We await more news.

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  • Norman12

    I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I would like to pose a couple of questions. When a city like Burnaby approves a large development, such as Brentwood, that will add hundreds or thousands of additional residents, is there any consultation in advance with the transit authority about how the transit needs of the new residents will be accommodated and paid for? And after this need has been identified, is there any requirement on the part of the city concerned or the developers to pay for the improvements? Or is this (the financing) handled on an ad hoc basis? The mayor of Burnaby seems to obstruct any plan to pay for transit, so I think I may know the answers. I’m not being ironic or sarcastic, I’d like to know.

  • francesbula

    That is actually a good question. As I don’t have to tell you, Brentwood is already very nicely served by the Millennium Line. But whether city planners call up TransLink and ask how the agency plans to handle 10,000 more people at the stop — I’m not sure if they do that. For sure, it would be good for future residents (well, really, for everyone along the line) to know if and when TransLink would add new cars or bump up the frequency or whatever as the population increases. Certainly along the Cambie line, where new six-storey buildings are sprouting everywhere, I don’t know of any firm commitment from TransLink to improve the service in response.