Public transit is expected to arrive on the West Coast next year, bringing a new tax along with it.
The service, which will see buses traveling between Tofino and Ucluelet, was expected to arrive this year, but that timeline was pushed back to a new tentative launch date in September, 2022.
Taxpayers in the participating communities Tofino, Ucluelet, Electoral Area C, Ucluelet First Nation and Toquaht First Nation are expected to cover about $550,000 of the service’s annual costs.
Tofino is expected to cover about $274,319 of the bill, with an estimated cost of $167 per household. Ucluelet is expected to cover about $183,922, roughly $98 per household.
Electoral Area C is expected to cover about $74,130, about $88 per household.
The Ucluelet First Nation will cover $16,498 and the Toquaht First Nation will cover $1,131 though their respective portions will be paid through direct billing rather than property taxation.
Taxpayers agreed to pay the $550,000 bill through an Alternative Approval Process held by the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District in 2019 instead of a traditional referendum and anyone opposed to the tax needed to submit an official form to the ACRD. If 602 opposition forms had been received, the transit plan would have been cancelled, but only 336 came in.
Residents of the Electoral Area C community of Salmon Beach have been arguing against being included in the transit service’s tax base since the alternative approval process concluded, arguing they were unaware the process was going on and would not be able to access the service from their community.
In a report submitted to the ACRD board on Sept. 8, the regional district’s operations manager Eddie Kunderman and general manager of administrative services Wendy Thomson explained that while Salmon Beach represents just 3 per cent of the service’s taxation base, allowing the community to be removed from the tax would be problematic.
“Due to the fact that the Salmon Beach percentage of the total assessed value is relatively low the financial impact to the other areas is minimal,” they wrote.
“Staff are concerned that if the Salmon Beach area is removed on the basis they do not have easy access to utilize the service, it is quite possible that other areas within the service will also make requests for removal on the same principles.”
Salmon Beach property owner Terry Graff spoke during the Sept. 8 meeting and said the community feels “very strongly that they and other area taxpayers who won’t have access to the service should be exempt from the tax.
“Salmon Beach has a marine designation that states that we are, in fact, considered to be boat-access-only. We are located a great distance from pavement, down a very rough logging road. Because of this designation it is not considered necessary to maintain our roads to a higher standard that would actually allow a bus to drive into our community,” Graff said.
She added Salmon Beach is zoned as a recreational community, meaning its roughly 300 residents are only allowed to reside there for 180 days a year and noted those residents would need to drive for roughly 30 minutes to reach the nearest proposed bus stop.
She reiterated that Salmon Beach residents felt excluded from the 2019 alternative approval process as, she argued, they were unaware it was happening at the time.
“We’d been told that there might be a bus running between Ucluelet and Tofino, but not that it would impact Salmon Beach in any way,” she said. “We never imagined that we would be expected to pay a transit tax for this service that will mainly benefit people working in Tofino and living in Ucluelet, West Coast tourists and the local hotel and tourism industries.”
She presented a petition with 172 signatures against Salmon Beach paying the tax.
“Salmon Beach owners will not benefit in any way from this bus service. We are a very remote boat access only community, a seasonal community who were refused participation in this decision through your neglect to inform us of the (alternative approval process). We will never be able to use this transit service and consequently we should not be expected to pay for it, nor should any other west coast taxpayers in the same situation as Salmon Beach,” she said.
Electoral Area C Director Kel Roberts agreed with Graff and proposed an amendment to exclude Salmon Beach from the tax, which was seconded by Ucluelet representative Coun. Rachelle Cole.
“I do believe that the remoteness and lack of service to the particular community of Salmon Beach is sort of where I’ll lay my hat on,” Cole said.
“Anybody from there utilizing it is already going to be driving 90 per cent of the journey to get to where they’re going on the West Coast and then not likely to park and wait and spend the last 10 per cent of their commute on a transit system when they already got there in their vehicle.”
Port Alberni’s ACRD representative mayor Sharie Minions noted her community is not part of the service’s taxation base and thus she would not get a vote on whether to exclude Salmon Beach, but she spoke against the motion.
“I believe really strongly that when you are a member of a community, you pay for the services that are offered in and around that community,” she said. “I think that owning a recreational property is a privilege and I think that whether you use the services or not, it’s our responsibility to pay. I do understand and sympathize with the comments about the service not coming directly into the community, but I feel strongly that this is a regional service that should be paid for by all of the residents in the area.”
Huu-ay-aht representative and ACRD board chair John Jack noted he also did not get a vote, but spoke against removing Salmon Beach from the tax and suggested residents should have been aware the alternative approval process was going on.
“I think the way this works from a governance perspective raises too many concerns and questions,” he said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to exclude Salmon Beach at this stage. There was due process involved and it’s on the property owners as well as the director involved (Kel Roberts) to make sure that his or her community is informed as to what’s going on.”
Roberts was the only vote in favour of removing Salmon Beach from the tax and was outnumbered by opposition votes from Ucluelet First Nation representative Allan McCarthy and Toquaht First Nation representative Kirsten Johnsen, meaning Salmon Beach remains on the hook for their portion of the tax.