Transit tax rules unchanged
Council to look into more transport options
Sarnia is sticking with the mantra, ‘no service, no tax.’
City council sided with the majority Monday and voted to keep a special service area levy in play that exempts people further than 450 metres from a bus stop from paying transit costs.
About 400 people shared their opinions in a city-run survey, with just shy of two-thirds favouring the current setup that exempts farmers, industrial properties and others from paying for the service many say they don’t need or want.
The proposal had been to redistribute cost evenly among ratepayers, meaning those who are already pay would have paid a little less, and those who aren’t paying now would have paid significantly more.
It would not have increased tax revenue.
The debate at city hall centred on what is fair.
Coun. Cindy Scholten, who made the move to scrap the special service area in the first place, said it’s about everybody in a city paying for the services that make a community a desirable place to live.
She compared it to people getting a special exemption on parks or arenas if they choose not to use them.
“The burden should not just be on my neighbour, it should be on all of us,” she said.
But resident Debbie Krukowski, who’s spoken numerous times at city council in favour of the special levy, said people have a choice when it comes to arenas and libraries and such.
When it comes to buses, those who live outside of walking distance don’t have a choice, except to drive to the bus stop, she said, which is futile.
“Today council needs to decide what is fair and equitable,” she said.
Council last tackled the issue — which stems from an agreement when Sarnia and the Town of Clearwater merged in the 1990s — in 2003.
“The adage in 2003 was ‘no service, no tax’ and I stick to that,” said Coun. Anne Marie Gillis.
But there should be more discussion about how to improve the transit system, said Coun. Bev MacDougall, referring to suggestions from citizens.
Some routes have large buses that are too empty, she said, noting the city could look into better designs.
“There are lots of exciting possibilities out there and we need to harness them together,” she said.
Council approved her idea to have a one-time meeting with the city ’s transit committee to come up with ideas.
They’re also exploring suggestions made by Coun. Andy Bruziewicz, including having buses head out to farther-flung corners of the municipality once or twice a day.
“At least there would be some coverage there,” Bruziewicz said, calling it a “Via Rail treatment of the area.”
He and Scholten were the only councillors not to support the status quo.
Coun. Brian White agreed there’s a deeper conversation to be had, looking at more modern options for transportation.
People in the community, meanwhile, benefit from lower wage earners taking the bus to work and contributing to the local economy, he said.
“This is potentially a wage gap issue as well,” he said.
“The more we put onto users of this system who are the least able to afford, the bigger that gap grows.”