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Mayors OK tax hikes

Richmond one of few cities to vote against proposal

For more than 20 years, residents of Metro Vancouver's northeast sector have watched as a long-promised rapid transit system for their area has been ignored in favour of extensions to SkyTrain and the construction of the Canada Line.

But on Friday, their hopes for the Evergreen Line linking Coquitlam and Port Moody to Burnaby, Vancouver and Surrey came to fruition when provincial Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Blair Lekstrom confirmed his government will "get shovels into the ground" within weeks or months.

His announcement came just hours after the TransLink Mayors' Council agreed - with considerable reservations - to raise regional gas taxes by two cents.

They also agreed to consider tapping into property taxes again in order to fund a 10-year, $70-million-a-year regional transportation improvement plan. The council represents each Metro Vancouver municipality.

The vote, which passed with 70-percent support, includes a $400-million commitment the province demanded from the region in order to close the gap on the estimated $1.4 billion cost of the Evergreen Line. The federal government is providing $417 million, the rest will come from the province.

Richmond and Delta mayors were among the six who opposed the plan.

Richmond's mayor, Malcolm Brodie, had previously stated his objections centred around the property-tax component of TransLink's plan.

Brodie also has concerns the B.C. government may not make good on its promise to stop using property-tax hikes to fund TransLink.

Starting next April, gas taxes are set to rise two cents a litre.

And residential property taxes could go up by $23 - annually, per home - in 2013-14 if other funding isn't found.

TransLink says it will use the remaining funds raised from the tax hike, amounting to about $30 million a year, to pay for nearly a dozen catch-up programs, from improving bus service to doubling the amount now spent on road improvements in every municipality.

The Evergreen may be going ahead, but other long-term road and transit improvements, from transit expansion south of the Fraser River to a Broadway corridor rapid bus, remain stalled while the province and Metro mayors negotiate long-term sustainable funding.