Transit tax rules un­changed

Coun­cil to look into more trans­port op­tions

The Observer (Sarnia) - - NEWS - TYLER KULA tkula@post­media.com

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.”

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