If taxpayers were wondering how this council is able to hold the line on property taxes this year, they need wonder no more.
The draft Five Year Financial Plan was presented to council Tuesday evening, highlighting some of the nitty-gritty details of the $74 million municipal budget.
With their backs to the wall for the past four months, council has whittled away at the $3.3 million shortfall to deliver zero property tax increases and zero utility fee increases in what Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden called "a job well done."
It's Wilhelm-Morden's first budget as mayor; Mike Furey's first as Chief Administrative Officer at municipal hall.
"I'm very pleased that we were able to deliver on that," said the mayor this week, referring to her election campaign promise in the fall of no tax increases. "I think the community will be happy with it as well. The staff has done a very, very good job. They've worked very hard on this budget in a compressed timeframe. Of course our job hasn't stopped and it's going to be carrying on into 2013 as we start really getting into it."
Pressures on the budget this year include decreased revenues from parking lots ($613,000), lower return on investments ($278,000), and more than $1 million less in provincial RMI funding.
Credit is due to the past council, however, which initiated a service review delivered close to the end of its term. That review found $1.2 million in savings.
This council has gone even further.
Balancing the budget, however, has come at a cost. "None of these decisions were easy," said the mayor. "I can safely say that."
Council is proposing the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, for example, be given two contracts, each worth $40,000.
One is to monitor the Whistler2020 program and the other is for work with other resorts around the RMI funding from the province for tourism projects. That's far less than the $192,000 annual contact over the last several years.
But, added the mayor, that's not to say the Centre won't get additional contracts this year.
When asked if she was worried about the future of Whistler's sustainability plan the mayor said: "No."
"In fairness, this council really hasn't had the opportunity to sit down and review Whistler2020, nor the draft OCP (Official Community Plan). And they're both two foundational documents. We're not for a minute saying we're going to ignore either one of them... They're both important documents. Hopefully once we get this budget process over and a couple of other things under our belt, we'll be able to look at both of those documents more closely."
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were also found in what's being called departmental "savings and efficiencies" stretching from the top at the mayor and council level at $32,000, including the $10,000 pay cut Wilhelm-Morden took when she became mayor.
• CAO Division reduced $107,000
• Infrastructure Services Division reduced $144,000
• Resort Experience reduced $373,000
• Community and Corporate Services Division — $436,000
That's more than $1 million in "savings and efficiencies." Again, much of that was found in the service review. During the recent budget process staff found an additional $350,000 of savings to operational costs.
"We asked all of the senior managers to sharpen pencils and to do what they could do and we expect that this will be a continuing exercise," said the mayor.
Examples of some of those savings include a $62,000 reduction in the finance department due in part to the difference between the general manager's position and the director's position. When previous general manager Lisa Landry resigned last fall, her position was filled as a director.
Another $20,000 was also cut from the mayor and council division for "international activities."
The legislative services department found $66,000 in savings in lower insurance premiums.
"I think there's a culture shift on council," said Councillor Roger McCarthy at the budget open house before Tuesday's council meeting. "And I think that creates culture shifts within the RMOW as well. I think that's a great thing."
Council also decided to put $1.1 million less in the RMI reserves, the municipal savings accounts. That reflects the decrease in funding from the province this year.
This year will also be the year with the smallest municipal capital program in recent years at just over $15 million.
"We are a mature resort," said the mayor. "We're not necessarily interested in building all kinds of new things. The reduction in the capital program just really reflects the status of the resort these days."
Council has yet to approve the budget. That will be done in the coming weeks.
"There is still an opportunity to give us input," said the mayor. "So, don't be shy...Phone us, email us, let us know."
Capital Expenditures At A Glance:
Mountain Square Enhancement — $1.5 million
Bayly Park at Cheakamus Crossing — $1.3 million
Vehicle Purchases — $970,292
RCMP Jail Cell Code Upgrades — $320,338
Library Collection — $85,000