Sarnia farmers don’t want buses and they don’t want to pay for them either.
That was the prevailing message in a public input session at city hall Monday as council considers scrapping a bylaw that limits the bus tax for conventional transit to households within about half a kilometre of a stop.
Coun. Cindy Scholten called for a review last November in the interest of fairness, arguing all property owners should share the cost of transit because of the benefits it provides.
Some of those include affordable transportation, more parking spaces, better traffic flow, and a contribution to economic development, according to a city staff report.
But a good portion of rural Sarnia and some urban sections don’t have access.
Kevin Forbes, a dairy farmer, said jettisoning the bylaw will mean another $500 on his $18,000 tax bill.
“When you try and determine what the fair cost of zero service is, the best number I can determine is at zero,” he said.
All ratepayers pay for the specialized Care-a-Van service. Gas taxes, along with transit taxes and fares, cover the cost of Care-a-Van and conventional buses.
Getting rid of the bylaw will not increase the revenue from bus taxes, just who pays them, said Lisa Armstrong, director of finance with the city.
For every $100,000 of assessment, residential property owners currently paying the bus tax would see an $8.65-cent break. Those not currently paying, would be on the hook for another $47.02 – for every $100,000 of assessment.
For farms, the numbers are $2.17 and $11.75 respectively.
Currently 25,800 homes pay the transit tax and 2,210 do not.
Meanwhile farm assessments in Lambton County rose an average 65 per cent in 2015, said Joanne Fuller, with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
That means taxes are already going up, she said.
“Farmers work with fixed commodity prices and have no ability to pass the cost of increased tax burden onto consumers,” she said. “This means the increased tax burden will directly reduce net farm income for local farm families.”
Farmers weren’t the only ones opposed to the proposal at city hall Monday.
Lynda Lewis said she’d love to have bus access, but the closest stop from her Lakeshore Road home, east of Modeland Road, is Murphy Road.
“I don’t need to be slapped with a $200 increase,” she said. “For what? Where’s my bus?”
Council voted to push its decision day to September to give more time for people to weigh in.
Council had been slated to decide July 10.
Armstrong previously said a decision was needed by July for any changes, if they’re voted in, to take effect next year.
The city is currently seeking public feedback on the proposal.
In addition to the meeting Monday, a survey is available at clerks.smartsarnia.com, and paper copies are available from city hall customer service, the Strangway Centre, and various buses.
People can also provide feedback at [email protected], or call 519-332-0330.