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SRA Report: Taxes and transit services

Shawnigan Focus, June 2014 

By Lois Morrow

Several weeks ago, ratepayers in Area B received our 2014 Property Tax Notices. In order to pay for the services provided to our area by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, there was a lift in taxes from 277.92 per $100,000 assessed residential value in 2013, to 292.14 per $100,000 assessed value in 2014. The most expensive categories for Shawnigan taxpayers were, as they are every year, the Kerry Park Recreation Centre and the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre.

Overall, the 2014 CVRD budget showed a relatively modest 2% increase from 2013. One of the small handful of factors driving this increase was the expansion of transit services to Ladysmith. Readers are probably asking themselves at this point: “why is this of concern to the ratepayers of Shawnigan, or why is the Shawnigan Residents Association commenting on this matter?”

Transit services are organized and funded on a regional basis, and the lift in Shawnigan taxes in the Transit category this year is occurring primarily to pay for the buses running to Ladysmith, not to pay for any increase in services to our area. Now most of us recognize that it makes sense to participate in certain regional services – the 911 emergency infrastructure comes to mind – and we don’t begrudge our taxes going to benefit other areas besides our own.

There are two problems, however, with the Transit tax. First, let’s look at the document to be presented at the June 12 CVRD Transit Committee meeting: “BC Transit Ridership Information for Ladysmith Routes – 6 Months (September 2013 to February 2014)”. This document shows that the total ridership on all six routes over the six months was 5,128, or a total average of 28.4 riders per day. The 28 people who use BC Transit in Ladysmith every day are no doubt very grateful for the service, but does it make sense for an entire regional district to increase a tax requisition for these 28 users? And does it make sense for Shawnigan ratepayers to build up a service in Ladysmith when the majority of Area B residents do not have ready access to that same transit service in our area?

This brings us to the second problem. Last fall the Shawnigan Residents Association was invited to send a representative to the second of two BC Transit- sponsored public consultations on the future of the transit system in south Cowichan. There weren’t very many members of the public there and there wasn’t much consultation either, mainly just a presentation by BC Transit consultants, but the effort was made to gather input from participants. The concerns identified would be apparent to any resident of Area B, who observes large empty buses most times of the day, or who lives in an area that has no bus service whatsoever.

In May, the proposed service changes arising from the consultations were made available on the BC Transit website and at an Open House held June 3 at the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre. Far from addressing the concerns that had been brought forward, Shawnigan will see a reduction in routes from three (#10,12,15) down to two (#8, 9), with a total number of 15 daily trips plus 7 on week-ends. The request for smaller buses and more flexible routing has been deferred 2 to 3 years, and the idea of taxi script (using taxis to transport riders from areas far from a bus route to a bus pick-up point), which was presented as a viable option for Shawnigan, has been deferred 4 to 6 years.

To top things off, the Shawnigan map used by BC Transit cuts off at about a third of the way down the lake – residents south of there and in the Koksilah area have no hope of ever seeing service because they don’t exist. Our Area Director Bruce Fraser has been trying for three years to have BC Transit use an accurate map of Area B, and the point has been raised by the Residents Association, but to no avail.

So, why is the Shawnigan Residents Association commenting on this matter? The ratepayers of Shawnigan Lake are paying increasing taxes for a minimal service or for a service they will never receive, at the same time contributing to transit operations in another area which serve an average of 28 people per day. Taxpayer dollars are not unlimited; while public transportation is desirable, decisions about the expenditure of public dollars must always reflect some common sense.

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