Placing a crossing toll on the Pitt River Bridge was one of the issues that separated candidates running for Mayor in Pitt Meadows during the two all candidates meetings last week.
Pitt Meadows mayoralty candidate Michael Hayes drew criticism from political opponents when he said at the Thursday meeting he would be in favor of tolling all bridges in the region – which would presumably include the Pitt River Bridge.
His rival, John Becker, said he could not support any new tolls, particularly if they were not directly tied to a new service or capital project.
“The feeling of us, out here in the east, is we continue to pay into systems serving Metro Vancouver,” said Becker, adding people will not be willing to accept extra taxes for limited, if any, improvements.
He said municipal officials in communities served by TransLink investigate the corporation’s spending, noting it already has considerable revenue sources with gas taxes and bridge tolls.
“What is Pitt Meadows getting now, for its bang for the buck?” he asked.
Afterward, Hayes clarified that the one-minute response time at the meeting did not give him adequate time to outline his position.
“It is worth looking at the option of a minor toll of approximately 50 cents per crossing on all bridges, so that it is fair across the entire region, and affordable to all,” he said.
Hayes added that he opposes TransLink or Victoria adding any new gas tax or property tax for transit, but “understand that additional funds need to be generated for future growth and improvements.”
Mayoralty candidate Gary Paller agreed that all bridges should be tolled, but at a rate of $1 per crossing.
“My quest is to find out how much of the toll is going towards collecting the toll and how much is going towards the debt,” he added.
“As much as I hate to say it, we might be better off scrapping the tolls altogether, and the collection of the tolls, and just add another two cents per litre on our already outrageous gas taxes.”
Looking back on the two public meetings, Becker called the all candidates meetings a “pasteurized product.”
He added: “What would have been preferable was the mayor’s televised debate.”
His two opponents backed out of the one-hour televised debate that Shaw had organized..
At the meetings, Becker’s team, which includes councillors Janis Elkerton, Bruce Bell and David Murray, along with candidate Mike Stark, was the subject of some thinly veiled criticism. Numerous candidates said they run independently, and not “beholden” to anyone.
Asked why the members of the team did not respond to these accusations, Becker said they preferred to outline their electoral platforms at the meetings.
“We do that [respond to team criticism] at the doorsteps,” he said.
“You’ll never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every barking dog,” Becker said, quoting Winston Churchill.
Hayes believes he was separated from other mayoralty candidates by not making promises that he can’t keep – such as a zero tax increase without cutting services, or building overpasses and sports facilities without a funding plan in place.
“My promise is to deliver services with the least among of burden to our taxpayers,” he said. “I will protect our reserves. I will look for partnerships for capital projects such as overpasses, sports fields and infrastructure improvements and budget them into our business plan.”
Paller said the events were well organized and the attendance was excellent. However, he would have preferred to have been questioned directly by members of the audience, in a town hall style.
Paller is not a fan of candidates running as a team.
“You’ve got the same five people sticking together, trying to get elected,” he said. “And they don’t care about the problems in Pitt Meadows today, they only care about getting re-elected.”