Back to top

Transit prepares to climb steep hill in finding new funding formula

During the COVID-19 pandemic, West Kootenay Transit has been limiting the number of passengers to comply with the Public Health Officer's request for social distancing, which includes passengers, when possible, entering and leaving busses through the rear door.— The Nelson Daily photo

The region’s decision makers will be coming together to chart the future course of regional transit and to determine how costs are handled for the multi-layered, district-wide service as it continues to evolve.

And, once humans are again cleared to congregate — West Kootenay Transit has taken additional measures to support physical distancing by reducing the number of passengers on board BC Transit buses due to the COVID-19 pandemic — a decision on how much to fund the service in order to deliver the mandated service levels will be needed.

If the maximum allowable annual tax requisition amount for the region’s transit service — the ceiling on how much the region’s governments can collect for running the service — is not increased the service will not be sustainable beyond the current year, according to Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) staff report.

How much Nelson and all of the service contributors should each pay will be determined by agreement on how and why transit will need to be funded, said RDCK research analyst, Tom Dool.

“We need to come to an agreement on how we define the value of transit at the leadership level. Then we can compare costs,” he said in an email.

“The short answer is that we should all pay an agreed upon amount that reflects an equitable distribution of costs and services.”

Cost considerations

The main proposal is to change how the cost of transit is shared amoung the service participants, with those costs currently fixed in the bylaw. But the problem is if service levels are changed there has to be an amendment in the bylaw to reflect the new cost to participants.

With service levels changing almost annually, it means proposing a bylaw amendment every year.

“Better that we reference the apportionment in the bylaw and put the formula in policy,” noted Dool. “That way we can be a lot more transparent about how the cost is shared amoung service participants.”

Toward that end the formula will be developed over the next few months in consultation with the board of directors, coming to an agreement on what criteria should direct the funding of transit and how that affects the cost to each partner.

The process will bring every transit partner in the region into a discussion, armed with data — demographics, mileage, transit opportunity, assessments and base costs — to create the data driven policy.

“There is no other transit system like this one anywhere in the province,” said Dool. “We’re connecting 14 municipalities and 16 rural electoral areas. There is an expectation of being able to get from community to community that goes back over 100 years in the region.”

The danger of having apportionments by policy, he added, is it can be changed by resolution where those that are paying the highest costs may have a minority vote.

On the home front

Closer to home for Nelsonites, the Heritage city contribution to the conversation is also layered. While the city operates its own municipal transit system — taxpayers within the city pay for service to Uphill, Fairview, Rosemont and to the Nelson airport — it also contributes to regional transit.

The City of Nelson contributes $82,000 per year to fund the #99 Kootenay Connector —from Nelson to Selkirk College, with a link to Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital — but the route costs about $325,000 a year to operate. The city has pledged to support the route to ensure access to the hospital, the college and more affordable housing in the rural areas.

The city is contracted to BC Transit as a service provider but the regional district hires Nelson Transit to provide services in rural areas. Although the city pays $82,000 into the service to provide the #99 it also gets paid to drive those buses.

Through the coming deliberations those funding figures could change for the city and its taxpayers, but the service levels are expected to continue, if not increase.

Who made who

Out of the regional district transit’s overall budget of $1.2 million, Castlegar is actually the largest contributor at over $400,000 followed by electoral areas E, F, and H (all over $150,000).

The proposed amendment has received the first three readings from the RDCK board and has been sent to the local government participants for approval. Earlier this month Nelson city council approved the process and underlying need to crack open the case on costs, and will be sitting at the table when the time comes to crunch numbers in person.

Under the Local Government Act, the RDCK must either receive consent from at least two-thirds of the participants in order to adopt the amendment, or through assent or an alternative approval process.

If two thirds of the participants do not consent, the RDCK has alternative avenues through which it can pursue adoption of the amendment.

In September the board will have to agree to a transit apportionment policy.

Kootenay Lake West Transit Amendment Bylaw

The service funds routes in Blewett, the Kootenay Connector, Nakusp-Slocan and Kaslo.

The amendment recommended the following:

Increase the maximum allowable requisition from $0.048/$1,000 of assessed value to $0.058/$1,000 of assessed value.

This is the maximum amount that can be taxed, not the amount that will be taxed. The new requisition maximum could last for the next five to 10 years, depending whether or not the board wants to see an increase in transit services.

An increase of one cent per $1,000 of assessed value equals $3.50 on a $350,000 home.

The increase is projected to take place over a five to 10-year period, depending on what kind of transit improvements are brought in.

— Source: RDCK analyst Tom Dool