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Comparing numbers

How Whistler’s 2009 budget stacks up against other mountain towns and neighbouring municipalities



Keeping taxes down during times of economic recession is tough. And staff at the Resort Municipality of Whistler were not alone this year in their struggle to balance the budget, maintain service levels, and hold taxes steady.

Financial advisors at the Town of Banff projected a tax increase but were forced to rework the numbers after their council decided to freeze taxes in light of the economic downturn.

"Our three year budget currently shows increases in 2010 and 2011, but no increases this year," reported Kelly Gibson, senior accountant for Banff. Banff's tax increases over the next three years will total 12 per cent.

"Council, when they were deliberating, started along the same path they normally do, but in anticipation of this year they decided to freeze the tax increase."

The tax increase was whittled down, said Gibson, mainly be freezing employee wages, and no lay offs were made.

"It was a complete freeze. The cost of living increase, and everything, was frozen."

Meanwhile, down south in Colorado, staff at the Town of Breckenridge wrestled with how to cut their budget after enjoying several years of higher-than-normal sales tax revenue and real estate transfer tax.

By eliminating all raises, freezing vacant jobs and trimming services, accountants at Breckenridge have sliced $2.1 million off their $24 million budget, about 10 per cent.

"Our general philosophy is to look at the expenditure side and try and manage that first, and then council has to make a choice when we start looking at actually services." said Tim Gagen, town manager of Breckenridge.

Gagen said the cuts have not been controversial.

"At least, not at this stage, but we have not really hit anything in terms of the service yet," he said.

"The next stage will be that, if we continue to see no recovery in those major revenue streams."

Accountants took the scalpel to the Town of Vail's budget this year too, cutting $1.3 million out of expenditures.

Like Breckenridge, Vail had seen high sales tax revenue in recent years. And, after a spurt of redevelopment in 2004, Vail increased staff by 12 positions. Now, though, seven and a half of those positions have been eliminated and two vacant ones have been frozen.

"Thankfully a lot of those weren't filled," said Kathleen Halloran, manager of budgets and financial reporting for the Town of Vail.

In keeping with the trend in Colorado, the City of Aspen also cut their budget by $3.4 million this year, following recent years of high sales tax revenue. In response to the increased revenue, at least 13 new positions were added to staff. Seven of those jobs have now been cut.