Council's Action Plan signals new direction

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The headlines coming out of Tuesday’s council meeting were, rightfully, all about the fact that Whistler taxpayers will not see property taxes increased this year, for the first time in a decade.

And not insignificantly, utility fees — which have also climbed steadily in recent years — will also be kept at current levels.

But beyond the good tax news, Tuesday’s meeting signaled the first substantive steps by the new council to reflect the seismic change residents voted for last November.

The measures are outlined in the Council Action Plan http://www.whistler.ca/sites/default/files/council_action_plan_2012-2014-1.pdf, a 12-page document that lists general priorities for the next three years and timelines to accomplish them.

Among the priorities are:
• an economic development strategy
• initiating a draft cultural plan
• advancing the post-secondary education initiative
• working towards an improved special occasion liquor licence system
• expanding sport tourism in Whistler
• supporting the advancement of the Spearhead Hut initiative
• reviewing and monitoring customer service levels
• updating the municipal communications and engagement strategy

There is considerable focus on financial issues, which again reflects voters’ concerns. There are plans to “revitalize” the annual financial planning process, including providing more accessible financial reporting and accountability and quarterly updates.

The decision to “pursue” an economic development strategy over the next 12 months is a notable direction change from the previous council. Not that there was a bias against economic development, but there was a sentiment that Whistler is in the tourism business and economic development should be limited to tourism-related businesses or those that complement tourism. Trying to attract high-tech companies to Whistler, for example, was not a priority.

The brief notes under “Pursue Economic Development Strategy” indicate that the effort will be led by the Chief Administrative Office and the Resort Experience Division. The plan is to engage key resort partners to undertake an economic planning review, review roles and individual agency plans, and “ensure alignment of organizations (i.e. WB, Chamber, TW & RMOW).” This last point may prove interesting, as some of these organizations were firmly of the belief that Whistler should remain in the tourism business.

Interestingly, considering the emphasis on financial issues, in the newly restructured municipal hierarchy the finance department has moved under the umbrella of Corporate and Community Services, which is led by Bob MacPherson.

MacPherson is one of a trio of veteran department heads that report to Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey. The others are Jan Jansen, head of Resort Experience, and Joe Paul, acting head of Infrastructure Services.

The smaller Communications, Legal Services and Human Resources departments report directly to Furey.

The full organizational chart is in the Council Action Plan.

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