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Budget proposes 2.9% property tax increase

Proposed projects total $42.6M

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Whistlerites can expect another tax increase in the 2019 budget.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is proposing a 2.9-per-cent property tax increase, two-per-cent increases to sewer parcel and water fees, and a 3.6-per-cent increase to solid waste user fees.

"What does that mean for individual taxpayers? This year and every year, the relative change of the value of your property will determine the direction of your tax bill," said Carlee Price, director of finance for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) at a budget open house on Feb. 4.

"So for 2019, the average residential assessment in Whistler is up 16.3 per cent. What that means is if your property appreciated by less ... your tax bill may actually fall. If your property is up by a greater amount, your tax bill may actually rise."

The 2019-2023 proposed projects list includes 176 projects worth $42.6 million (including $5.3 million carried over from 2018).

The total municipal budget is worth $87 million this year, up from $85 million in 2018.

"Throughout the year, council receives input from the community and makes decisions on long-range plans," said Mayor Jack Crompton at the open house.

"This year we will have the benefit that everything is discussed from the municipal election in October, and so council has had the unique chance to listen to you provide input through the election process, which is extremely helpful."

Some of the priorities council decided on during its December retreat that are reflected in this year's budget include wildfire protection, environmental performance, housing and transportation, Crompton said.

"We're also putting a lot of time into looking at asset management, and stepwise reinvestment into our community's infrastructure to remain sustainable into the future," he said.

"We're paying special attention to reserves. Our reserves are critical for the long-term success of our town, and as we have been making and will continue to make significant infrastructure investments, we need to take care that those reserves are strong."

INFRASTRUCTURE

On the surface, Whistler's 2019-2023 budget is about the "nuts and bolts" of the municipality, with the biggest investments directed at infrastructure projects.

Over the next five years, various municipal water mains are due for replacement, starting with White Gold in 2019 ($3 million is budgeted for that project in 2019, with another $400,000 in 2020).

Work on replacing water mains in Alta Vista will also begin this year, with $120,000 budgeted for the project (and another $1.5 million in 2020).

Sewers also factor prominently in the project list, including the long-awaited Alta Lake Road sewer project. The project—which will see the remaining 30 or so homes on Alta Lake Road connected to the municipal sewer system—has $3.6 million budgeted for it over the next three years.

Other sewer-related projects include lift station upgrades ($1.325 million in 2019), replacement of a bridge that allows access to the municipal sewer main ($450,000) and sewer trunk lining, manhole repairs and other upgrades ($3.62 million in 2019).

There's also $3 million earmarked for three washroom buildings in Whistler Village (Whistler Olympic Plaza, Gateway Loop and Passive Haus), which will be paid for entirely by provincial Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds.

The Meadow Park Sports Centre will also get some love this year, with expansion of the cardio room ($1.089 million, assisted by a $200,000 private donation).

Work on Whistler Village parkades will also be ongoing in 2019, with $2.3 million earmarked for waterproofing Lot A adjacent to the Whistler Conference Centre.

Replacement of the municipal vehicle fleet in 2019 ($3.26 million budgeted) will include new fire vehicles and plow trucks.

ENVIRONMENT

There is a wide range of wildfire prevention activities planned for 2019, with the RMOW share of the budget (after provincial grants are factored in) set at $554,540.

Fuel-thinning work will continue on the Callaghan Forest Service Road in 2019, along with above Rainbow and in other areas this fall.

Planning work is also ongoing for future fuel-treatment projects.

Sticking with wildfire, the 2019 budget also includes $135,375 for FireSmart activities.

On the water front, the budget includes $1.134 million in 2019 to upgrade the Baxter reservoir on Gondola Way, $535,000 to plan and commission a new water metering program, and $358,500 for "several significant planning exercises" related to water (including Water Capacity Planning, and continuing work on the 21 Mile Watershed Source Water Protection Plan).

On solid waste, the RMOW has budgeted $250,000 in 2019 for annual upgrades, as well as $105,000 to "push for compliance" with the new Solid Waste Bylaw.

Whistler's geopark pitch will also move forward this year, with $125,000 set aside for the project (followed by $50,000 each year from 2020 to 2023).

While there is no mention of funds for a designated "climate officer"—someone who will champion Whistler's Community Energy and Climate Action Plan—in the proposed projects list, an RMOW spokesperson said the position is accounted for in the 2019 operational budget.

RECREATION

The RMOW's acquisition of the 40-hectare Prism lands opens up a key access opportunity heading south, which the municipality will explore in 2019.

The budget includes $840,000 for a Valley Trail connection from Alta Lake Road to Function Junction (and another $450,000 for the project in 2020)—all from RMI.

Other Valley Trail improvements include connecting Rainbow Park with the existing Valley Trail ($100,000 in 2019 and $1.5 million in 2020, all RMI) and reconstruction at various areas ($160,000 in 2019).

There is also $350,000 in 2019 (followed by a further $300,000 in both 2020 and 2021) for work on Whistler's Alpine Trail Network, including completion of the Beverley trail, a focus on developing access from the southwest peak to the south flank trail and more.

The budget also has $310,000 to construct new, and revitalize existing, recreational trailheads (the goal being to ease parking and congestion issues).

There's also $783,614 in 2019 for upgrades at Meadow Park Sports Centre (including underground pipe repairs, additional overhead LEDs and more) as well as $163,535 in 2019 for equipment replacement.

The artificial turf field project will wrap up this year, with $630,000 set aside for it, and Whistler's parks master planning project will also see significant progress, with $140,000 in the budget in 2019 (followed by another $75,000 next year).

Tennis courts at Taluswood, Myrtle Philip and Alpha will get some attention this year and next, with $75,000 budgeted in each of 2019 and 2020 for surface repairs.

The Five-Year Financial Plan Bylaw is tentatively scheduled for first three readings on March 26 and adoption on April 9, while the Tax Rate Bylaws are tentatively scheduled for first three readings on April 9.

In 2018, property taxes went up 2.25 per cent, solid waste user fees went up 4.5-per-cent and sewer parcel taxes 1.1-per-cent, while there was no increase to water rates.

Find the full project list, along with other budget materials, at www.whistler.ca/budget. n

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