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Levy to increase to fund transit study

New Tecumseth councillors voted last night to reopen the 2003 budget to add $75,000 to the property tax levy, which now stands at 4.6 per cent more than last year.

The funds will be used to determine whether than Town can support a municipal transit system that could cost more than $500,000 in start up costs.

Additionally, a portion of the $75,000 could be allocated to subsidize Town Transit, a private enterprise bus service that's currently limited to routes in Alliston.

But that's not sitting well with everybody around the council table.

Ward 4 councillor Richard Norcross, and Ward 5 councillor Joan Sutherland, opposed the levy increase because ratepayers in Beeton and Tottenham would be subsidizing a service that doesn't include them.

Both expressed similar sentiments following last night's special meeting to deal with the transit issue.

Ms. Sutherland noted the matter is dredging up anti-amalgamation sentiments in her ward.

"People meeting me on the street are very upset their taxes are going to go up for a service that's not available to them," she said. "We've got a huge senior population (in Tecumseth Pines). They're fed up right now. They think the south end is really getting forgotten on the whole thing."

Mr. Norcross said his constituents are asking why their property taxes should increase to pay for an Alliston only service.

"There are people in Beeton that are sick, elderly, that have handicaps, that don't have somebody to come pick them up, that can't afford the taxies," he said. "There was no consideration given to them. We raised the taxes tonight on people's homes. And I really wonder if people that signed that petition (2,000 names) if they knew that their taxes would be going up on their property and that there could be a special levy to pay for a service that's a private enterprise."

Deputy mayor Rick Milne said he surveyed four municipalities with transit systems - Orangeville, Belleville, Barrie and Port Hope - and he came away with a common theme.

"They say it's a money loser. You'll never make money on it. The most you'll make is 46 cents on the dollar," said Mr. Milne, speaking in favour of committing $75,000. "I do have concerns for the taxpayers, but we've spent more money on projects that we thought were important. When somebody is jailed in their homes because of a medical problem, and our seniors in the community need to get around, then I consider this to be a high priority."

CAO Terri Caron said the main obstacle to supporting David Warner's Town Transit is that it's a private business.

"It is true the advice we received is that generally speaking, transit services are not financially self-sufficient, and they do require ongoing funding. It would be an expensive potentially down the road service for the municipality to embark on," she said. "The advice we have to date is that there are legal issues that make it very difficult for the municipality to support a private enterprise but that is something we can continue to look at how that could be implemented."

It's expected a follow up report for council will be tabled June 2 outlining the options the Town could pursue to study the transit issue while maintaining for the remainder of the year, Mr. Warner's service.

Ward 1 councillor Mike MacEachern, who joined councillors Norcross and Sutherland in opposing the $75,000, (the vote was 6-3 in favour of the funding) said he couldn't support subsidizing a non-profit private enterprise that competes with the two local taxi companies.

"I understand a lot of people aren't able to utilize (taxi) services based on costs, but there still needs to be a recognition that in fact we will be competing for their customer base, and we will be subsidizing a non-profit to do that at a much cheaper price," said Mr. MacEachern. "If we go ahead with the transit system, it's a level of service that you're going to have to reconcile that you'll have to be providing for now on. I don't think it's something that you're going to do for a year and see if it works, and then pull the service. People will become dependent on that service. If it's hard to get the service started, it'll be 10 times harder to remove it."

Prior to the meeting, Wayne Mason, owner of WD Cabs in Alliston, told Free Press Online that Town Transit has had an impact on his business. He was operating five cabs at the beginning of the year, but has since cut back to three.

WD charges a one-way flat rate of $5 in Alliston, $4 for seniors. Town Transit is a $2 fare.

"When I opened up my business 12 years ago, no funding was made available for me to pay my insurance, my cost of repairs or anything like that," said Mr. Mason. "If it was being done by the Town, in a Town vehicle then that's fine. But I don't think it should be sponsored for a private person. We've lost a lot of business. We've noticed quite a drop in revenue. We've lost pretty well all our stuff going to the Nottawasaga Inn."

Another point of contention, he noted, is that Mr. Warner does not follow a defined route with designated stops. People can call him and he will pick them up.

"I believe he's not really doing a bus service, he's doing a taxi service because he's picking people up at their addresses. They're phoning in just like they do with us and picking them up at their door," said Mr. Mason. "A municipal service will set up stations along the road. Not go door to door. This is where we're losing. They're going around as a taxi service basically going door to door. If there's a bus stop fine, the people have to walk to the bus stop. I agree with that."

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