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Another big year for RMI, hotel tax

Local budget gets big boost from provincial funds

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though the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) 2019-2023 project outline is valued at about $43 million, a significant portion of that is once again proposed to come from Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) and Municipal and Regional District (MRDT) funds.

RMI money accounts for $13,150,000 in proposed project funding over the next five years, while MRDT project funding totals $3,614,081.

In 2019, $5,986,780 will be spent using RMI, and $1,072,281 from MRDT (also known as the hotel tax).

Some big RMI projects on the books for this year include $3,052,000 for three public washrooms in the village, $350,000 for the Alpine Trail Program and $310,000 for recreational trailheads.

There is also a good chunk of RMI change devoted to Valley Trail improvements (including $100,000 in 2019 and another $1.5 million in 2020 to complete the Rainbow to Scotia Creek connection, and $840,000 in 2019 and $450,000 in 2020 for the Millar Creek to Function Junction connection).

"We've got a great team in Resort Experience (that is) engaged on the ground with the needs of the resort," said Mayor Jack Crompton, in explaining how the funds are spent.

"We work with Tourism Whistler, the FE&A (Festivals, Events and Animation) oversight committee and council to prioritize the needs of our community. It's a collaborative approach."

The two funds play a critical role in the local budget, he added.

"The RMOW has a unique role in that part of our provincial mandate is to support tourism. These funds are critical for us to provide the kind of support we do to our industry," Crompton said.

"In my view, the most critical use of those funds is what is often unrecognized, which is the investment in operating the resort. So village ops, transit—those things that are critical for a great visitor experience."

Whistler's Economic Partnership Initiative committee report (June 2016) stated that Whistler contributes approximately 25 per cent of B.C.'s tourism export economy to the province.

That's $1.37 million a day in tax revenue to municipal, provincial and federal governments combined.

The full investment breakdown of this year's FE&A lineup is not yet ready to be shared publicly, according to the RMOW, but the program is now funded using MRDT rather than RMI money, "which was direction provided from the province," Crompton said.

The FE&A program is an eligible expense under both funding programs, the province confirmed, and while Whistler determines how to allocate the money, "the province works closely with them on both their MRDT and RMI strategies and provides guidance on how best to utilize funds for maximum effectiveness," a spokesperson said.

The RMOW is also working towards using some MRDT revenue for affordable housing—a measure first introduced in the 2017 provincial budget (Whistler received approval to increase its MRDT rate from two to three per cent in late 2018).

"The additional funding collected through the online accommodation provider stream is eligible to be invested in affordable housing," Crompton said. "We have submitted an application to the province for this, and discussions are underway."

As for RMI, no funding amounts have been nailed down for 2019-20 just yet, with disbursement of funds planned for later in the spring, the province said.

Whistler received $6.68 million from RMI in 2017, and was anticipating about $6.5 million in 2018.

The province earmarked $39 million for the program over the next three years in its most recent provincial budget.

The program—intended to assist small, tourism-based municipalities to support and increase visitation—has doled out more than $108 million in funding since 2006.

In 2016, the 14 resort communities that received the funding released a report, which found that tourism spending grew by just over 38 per cent from 2011 to 2015 while the rest of the province grew just 20 per cent.

The accommodation revenues collected in those communities grew 42 per cent (the rest of the province grew 29 per cent).

The 14 RMI communities welcome 5.34 million visitors every year—105 visitors for every local resident.

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