Opinion » Editorial

All I want for Christmas....

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I'm sure the good people at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) are looking around for Christmas gift ideas.

Well, I have a suggestion. Instead of loaning Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) $1 million to finish its new building at the Nesters depot, grant it to them.

Originally slated to cost $2.1 million, most of which had been saved for over the last five years by WCSS, the new building's budget has gone up to $3.1 million.

That the RMOW stepped in and found a way to support WCSS when it faced rising construction costs on its new building, leading to a budget overrun, is commendable. In fact, it's terrific. And all taxpayers should be grateful that the RMOW considers where to use its reserves so that it gets the best deal.

In this case, the loan to WCSS will carry a term of 30 years at an interest rate of 2.88 per cent, and will be paid off through fundraising. Typically, the RMOW money would be invested and earning returns. In announcing the loan, it was described as "favourable" to the RMOW.

In reading this, I found myself asking whether this was a spend that needed to be in the "favourable" column of the town's financial ledger.

Let's remember we are talking about supporting an organization that deals with real people, many of them in crisis and need. This is not in the "nice things to have" column of our spending leger.

(I know you are thinking about the $2.7-million artificial turf field when reading this, or the $150,000 spent in 2017 to truck asphalt from Squamish so the Cheakamus plant doesn't run as often, or that we could live without an outside public washroom at PassivHaus and save another $150,000... I could go on.)

Wondering about what the WCSS does? Here is just a short list of some of the things the organization provides for our community: access to court services, the Birth, Baby & Beyond program, a camp fund, the Connect Whistler event (formerly Whistler Welcome Week), counselling assistance, emergency financial assistance, yoga, the food bank, the Healthy Choices programs, the Helping Hand Volunteer Assistance program, an income tax program, Kidsart, KidSport, outreach services, parent-infant drop-in, peer educators, PLAY Credit, Santa's Helpers, school lunches programs, a speaker series, the Support Network of Whistler (SNOW), and the Whistler Survival Guide.

And most of these services are paid for by sales at the Re-Use-It Centre — the very organization that is to inhabit the new Nesters location (the Re-Built-It Centre will move from its rental location to old Re-Use-It Centre in Function Junction).

The organization's total revenues have increased 10 per cent over the last year to $1,498,767. That number was bolstered by an 11-per-cent rise in revenue at the Re-Use-It Centre, and a whopping 40-per-cent jump in revenue through the WCSS recycling program. Revenue was down three per cent at the Re-Build-It Centre (while rent went up by over 30 per cent) — about 60 per cent of WCSS' annual revenue is poured back into the 21 social programs it delivers locally.

Latest figures show a record 2,124 one-on-one meetings with the outreach team in the last year. Mental health, financial, and emotional support were the primary reasons for the visits, and difficulties around housing and cost-of-living remained "permanent themes" for many clients.

In other words, the WCSS is looking after the emotional wellbeing of our resort, and I would hazard a guess that is as important a piece of the success equation for Whistler as jobs or anything else.

The argument to turn this loan into a grant can also be made on financial grounds.

Imagine how many hundreds of thousands of dollars the Re-Use-It Centre has saved the RMOW in landfill-trucking fees since it began operations. It has kept 4.1 million kilograms of waste out of the landfill. In 2016, that translated into 771,000 kg out of the landfill for a direct cost savings of $92,520 to the community. About 44,814 bags of donations were processed last year.

Perhaps the savings along the way have paid for the $1 million loan already?

Let's be clear — the RMOW has been nothing but supportive of WCSS from the lease of the land to it at Nesters, to stepping in and offering the loan, to giving it a five-year tax exemption.

But at this time of the year, when we are thinking about people and the needs of all those in our community, perhaps we should look at the big picture of giving and ask our community leaders to move the loan into the grant column of the ledger.

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