If public engagement is a cornerstone of open government, then the “public” part let its side down at the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s first budget open house on Thursday, Dec. 6
Just 18 members of the community turned out to listen to the plans for the 2013 Budget and to ask questions of RMOW staff and council, who outnumbered participants at the Whistler Conference Centre.
The open house had been organized in order to provide access to financial decision makers, to discuss the RMOW’s corporate planning process, and to look at issues and trends impacting the resort’s economy.
The turnout was so low that roundtable discussions planned around gathering public views on key financial questions had to be abandoned for an open microphone question and comment session.
Ken Roggeman, Whistler’s director of finance, said it was too early to “say where we are with community tax.”
But one indicator from previous public involvement caught Roggeman’s attention.
“It’s interesting to note that people are more interested in changing fees paid for using community services than increasing property taxes,” he said.
“I think the municipality went to a lot of work to put on the meeting and I was disappointed by the turnout,” said Sue Adams, owner the Whistler Grocery Store and the chair of the RMOW’s FE&A oversight committee.
She said it was clear from the presentation that there was nothing concrete to respond to at this point, but providing the basic information was important.
“It was a good educational session…. Education is such an important part in this process for helping people to understand bylaws and other considerations,” Adams added.
The 2013 budget must be agreed to by May 15, 2013.
Members of the RMOW’s new Economic Partnership Initiative Committee (EPI) also took the opportunity to make their first public presentation, outlining their work so far. Mike Furey, the RMOW’s chief administrative officer, Tourism Whistler’s president Barrett Fisher and Whistler councillor Jayson Faulkner all made presentations on the local economy, employment and tourism.
The EPI is also made up of representatives from the Hotel Association of Whistler, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Whistler Blackcomb and member-at-large Dannielle Kristmanson.
Furey said the initial meetings of the EPI had established their goals: to grow the resort community’s economy; build confidence; and attract investment.
The committee’s purpose, he added, was to: identify key economic trends, challenges and opportunities; identify Whistler’s economic goals and priorities; undertake economic research, analysis, and inform outcomes; make recommendations on annual RMI expenditures; and collaborate between the organizations, corporations and bodies to deliver recommendations and implement plans.
Faulkner said the idea was to look at the larger context for the resort by looking at trends and identifying the gaps in their collective knowledge about the resort.
“It’s important these things are all done together,” said Whistler councillor Jack Crompton.
The next budget open house is in February 19, 2013. The public is encouraged to learn more about the budget process at www.whistler.ca/budget and send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feedback can also be sent to the municipality’s PlaceSpeak page: www.placespeak.com/topic/597/resort-municipality-of-whistler-2013-budget/
A video of Thursday’s open house will also be posted to the RMOW website in the coming days.
For the whole story, read Pique Newsmagazine or check us out online on Dec. 13.