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Transit slows for lower taxes

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Ancaster residents can afford a lot of things, but apparently they don’t like paying a lot for more transit service.

Facing a backlash from homeowners, councillor Lloyd Ferguson convinced his colleagues at the April 9 council meeting to reduce a proposal that would add $1.1 million in new transit service along Rymal Road into Ancaster. The move will save local homeowners about $20 per household.

“Let’s walk before we run,” said Ferguson. “Let’s see who uses (the service). Most of the busses now run empty. I want to do it in small steps.”

Councillors voted 8-5 in favour of Ferguson’s motion to cut the enhanced service.

The original transit plan proposed by city staff for the Rymal Road route would cost $1.1 million annually, with about $800,000 in capital costs. It would provide new weekend and evening service every 30 minutes along Rymal Road to the Ancaster Business Park.

Ferguson balked at the enhancement, arguing Ancaster residents would pay an extra $14 a year for a house assessed at $275,700 but wouldn’t be using the service.

Ferguson said most Ancaster households pay double the taxes on their properties, so the extra costs would be felt by residents.

The Rymal Road route is expected to provide additional bus service along the Mountain and will accommodate students from Redeemer University.

The service now doesn’t operate during the evenings or on Sunday for the students.

In an effort to shield his residents from the bulk of the cost, Ferguson proposed cutting $75,000 from the operating cost of the service.

It will mean the Rymal Road route will run every half hour during the day up to Glancaster Road. It will then run to the Ancaster Business Park once an hour.

When the service begins in September, the operating cost will be about $325,000, and for a full year, the price tag is $965,000.

Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, who supported the full transit enhancement, argued most Ancaster residents can afford to pay the extra cost of the service.

“A lot of them are transplanted (from Toronto),” said Merulla, who added his three sisters live in Ancaster.

“Affordability is not an issue. Even (Toronto mayor) Rob Ford sees value in public transit.”

Ferguson said council agreed three years ago to fund a new bus service to the business park to assist employees working there, and he has seen more often buses driving around without any passengers.

He said residents have become “annoyed” at the rising taxes and are perturbed at paying for a service they won’t use. The transit enhancements were part of the city’s 2014 budget that politicians unanimously approved at their April 9 council meeting. The budget will boost taxes 1.5 per cent. It will mean a homeowner with an assessed property at $275,700 will pay an extra $53.

Other highlights include $290 million in capital infrastructure funding, preserving the adult day programs, $1.3 million in winter control services  and $1 million in savings from the private operation of the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities.

“One and a half per cent is reasonable,” said Ferguson, adding about half of the budget is going towards salaries and wages. “I’d like zero too.”

Last year the average tax increase was 1.9 per cent, while in 2012 it was 0.9 per cent. Councillors approved the lowest property tax increase in the post-amalgamation era in 2011 at 0.8 per cent.

This is also the last year for the area-rating phase in program, which has resulted in different areas of the city paying a variety of taxes.


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