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Budget proposes 2.25% tax hike

Proposed projects total $40M; emphasis on infrastructure

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Whistlerites can expect another small tax increase this year, along with rising solid waste and sewer parcel fees.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is proposing a 2.25-per-cent increase to property taxes, a 4.5-per-cent increase to solid waste user fees and a 1.1-per-cent increase to sewer parcel taxes.

There is no proposed increase for water rates at this time.

"Historically, it has ranged from zero all the way up to eight per cent," said municipal director of finance Ken Roggeman of the property tax increase, adding that a 2.25-per-cent increase on a $500,000 assessed property would amount to about $23 more, and about $47 more on a property assessed at $1 million.

The solid waste increase would amount to about $13 more per single-family dwelling.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden was out of town for the budget open house on Feb. 22 at the Maury Young Arts Centre, but said she's interested in reading the minutes and reviewing comments from the public.

"I think we pulled back on some of the spending on projects to maintain our reserve levels, and we're suggesting a modest tax increase, so I'm really quite satisfied with the budget," Wilhelm-Morden said.

About 20 people showed up for the open house, and only two asked questions following the presentations.

"I think that indicates that there is a lot of confidence in the community about what we're doing with respect to the use of our financial resources, but nevertheless I will be interested to speak to my fellow councillors and to see what staff has to say," the mayor said.

Council's priorities for 2018 are broken down into five key areas: core municipal service delivery; housing, transportation and affordability; environmental performance; wildfire protection; and refreshing the Official Community Plan.

WHAT'S THE TOTAL COST OF THE GATEWAY LOOP?

One of the RMOW's biggest projects in recent years has been rejuvenating the Gateway Loop, which was undertaken to offer a better experience for visitors on first arrival to Whistler.

The project has seen shifting totals included in each annual project budget since 2015 — $2 million in the budget that year, $2.4 million in 2016, $6.8 million in 2017 and the $960,000 in 2018 — but the RMOW said this week the total project design and construction costs from 2015 to 2017 were $6.1 million.

Add on the $960,000 for 2018 and the total spend is sitting somewhere around $7.06 million (offset by $679,003 in Resort Municipality Initiative funds).

The RMOW was unable to provide a detailed breakdown of spending before Pique's deadline, but at the budget open house on Feb. 22, staff said the roof structure alone cost more than $2 million.

Asked if she was comfortable with the project spend, Wilhelm-Morden said it is what it is.

"The due diligence going into this project was significant. There were a number of community forums, there were stakeholder forums, there was extensive design programs, there were revisits to the design at the initial stages," she said.

"I think it's unfortunate that the project has been delayed in completion, that was through no fault of the municipality... (There were) some construction delays and challenges, but I think once it's finished it will be an asset to the municipality, for sure."

CAN WE DO MORE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

One of the two questions from the crowd at the open house came from Claire Ruddy, executive director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE).

Going off of information in the draft budget, AWARE counted about $2.9 million worth of projects aimed at improving environmental performance — about seven per cent of the $40-million project list.

Half of that $2.9 million, Ruddy noted, is for wildfire protection, while $750,000 is directed at maintenance, retrofits or studies, and another $200,000 to compliance, online software projects, the Cheakamus Community Forest or other.

"So this leaves about $355,000... or 0.9 per cent of the $40-million 2018 project budget, to cover projects highlighted as speaking to air quality, bears, ecosystem monitoring, energy rebates and the Step Code policy development, solid waste outreach, environmental species and more," Ruddy said.

"Does council feel that this budget — and $355,000, or one per cent — for projects relating to your priority of improving our community's environmental performance, reflects the intent of discussions that you had when setting that priority at the council retreat?"

RMOW Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey called Ruddy's assertion a "staggering narrow view" of the municipality's environmental initiatives, pointing to things like free transit, work on parking, improvements to the transfer station, the new solid waste and water use bylaws, and more.

"I look at it on a much broader and long-term impact on the environment through the initiatives that we're doing," Furey said.

Councillor Sue Maxwell, however, agreed with Ruddy.

"If the goal is really about driving change in the environmental indicators, then I 100-per-cent agree with you that I don't think this budget is going to accomplish that," Maxwell said.

"A lot of it is stuff that has been existing before, and so if we actually want transformative change in the direction that some of these indicators are going, I think we're going to have to do substantially more, and I agree: This budget does not meet that test."

The No. 1 priority should be getting people out of single-occupant vehicles, said Coun. Jack Crompton, and delivering on regional transit will make a difference.

He's also enthusiastic about work done on the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan and in other areas.

That said, the budget isn't perfect, Crompton conceded.

"I don't think any budget is perfect. We have to balance a tremendous amount of line items. It's complicated, and I think we're moving in a good direction as an organization," he said.

"I think we value dealing with those capacity challenges we have, and coming up with solutions that will be long-term and will deliver for us, will deliver for our kids, (and) make this place more of what we love."

PROJECTS

The 2018 proposed project list details $40.3 million in spending (with $8 million carried forward from 2017), more than half of it directed at Infrastructure Services.

Some big-ticket standouts for 2018 include $3.2 million for fleet replacement; $2.8 million for the artificial turf field at Bayly Park; $2.2 million to upgrade the Emerald Water System; $2.4 million for sewer main replacement; $1.46 million for community wildfire protection; $1.24 million for Village Square rejuvenation; $1.65 million for road upgrades; and $1.6 million to upgrade Day Lot 5.

Other notable projects include $15,000 for BC Energy Step Code policy development; $20,000 for a First Nations Cultural Liaison; $125,000 to host the 2018 Union of BC Municipalities Convention; $958,000 for improvements to the Cultural Connector; $200,000 for sidewalks in Function Junction; $150,000 to expand the cardio room at the Meadow Park Sports Centre (followed by another $1,210,000-spend in 2019); and $160,000 for the Sea to Sky Evacuation Transportation Plan.

The full project list, along with detailed descriptions, can be found at www.whistler.ca/budget.

Proposed project and operating budgets will be refined using input received at the open house, with budget guidelines to be officially presented to council in March.

The bylaws are tentatively scheduled for first three readings at the April 10 council meeting, with adoption set for April 24.

Readings of this year's tax-rate bylaws are also tentatively set for April 24.

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