News » Whistler

A change in spending

RMOW budget likely to shrink, and local businesses may feel it



As the global economy slackens and Whistler’s tax base levels off due to buildout, another economic factor may affect the area: municipal spending will likely dip over the next few years.

At a time where senior levels of government are talking about revving up the economy by putting money into infrastructure and capital programs, spending by the Resort Municipality of Whistler has peaked. Most of the infrastructure projects that needed to be done before the 2010 Olympics are wrapping up.

While many may welcome this reduction in municipal spending — it is generally acknowledged that balancing the 2009 budget without increasing property taxes will be a challenge — it also means fewer or smaller contracts for local companies that provide services to the RMOW.

Over the past four years, money spent by the RMOW in the community has increased annually.

In 2007, the RMOW wrote cheques to more than 67 local businesses, amounting to more than $30 million. (Pemberton and Squamish-based businesses are not included in this tally. Also, data is based only on contracts worth more than $25,000.)

By contrast, the municipality spent approximately $18 million with about 66 businesses in 2006, and $7 million on 64 businesses in 2005.

Much of that increased spending was on capital projects, and many of the capital projects were related to preparations for the Olympics.

In 2006 RMOW capital spending increased 218 per cent over the previous year. The following year, in 2007, that amount increased again by 264 per cent.

Some of this capital spending was paid for by outside grants, including VANOC’s $35 million contribution toward the athletes’ village and the federal-provincial infrastructure program’s $13 million grant for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

“In 2007, RMOW began the main construction work building the athletes’ village, as well as the construction of the WWTP,” said Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability for the municipality.

“Primarily because of these two projects, the capital expenditure levels increased. As well, contribution from developers increased in order to record the $30 million in revenue the RMOW received from VANOC for the site servicing of the athletes’ village.”

Landry could not speak to spending changes in 2008 because the financial statements have not yet been prepared.

But now that the Olympics are just over a year away, construction in the valley is leveling off.

Jim Charters, whose company has been contracted by the RMOW for at least the past three years, said while the dip in municipal spending could impact Whistler Construction Co. Inc., it will not be any more than everything else happening with the current economy. This will just be another piece of the puzzle.