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Council approves 19 per cent tax increase

Despite controversy, mayor calls budget process 'the best I have ever seen'

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"What I have seen in developing this budget is that council and the community need to react to financial stresses that have been largely out of our control," said the mayor.


"Although it would have been wonderful to accommodate that without a tax increase, we have not been able to do that."


He added that Whistler's situation is similar to other local governments in B.C. as a result of continued downloading from senior levels of government.


The three years of tax increases are necessary to bridge a $5.7 million shortfall expected to accumulate between now and 2012, according to Lisa Landry, general manager of economic development for the municipality.


She added the 19 per cent tax increase will satisfy the 20 per cent tax increase laid out in the recently prepared Long Term Financial Plan.
Some of the factors that have created this gap are revenue lost from a change in the hotel tax and declining hotel revenues, Whistler reaching build out, and the economy. Costs have also gone up.


Ralph Forsyth, who was the only councillor to vote against the financial plan, said council needs to have a more thorough discussion on ways to increase revenue or cut spending.


"We can't keep inserting things into the capital budget and line items," said the second term councillor.


But before giving their thumbs up to the financial plan, several other councillors questioned specific areas of spending.


Councillor Ted Milner, in particular, was concerned that a similar amount of money has been budgeted for the Games office in 2009 and 2010, even though the Olympics will wrap up three months into 2010.


To this Jim Godfrey, executive director for the 2010 Games, replied: "The Games office will start to shut down in June... but we are hoping we won't have to spend the amount of money that is budgeted at this point."


During the meeting, Landry also spoke about recent budget cuts at Vail and Aspen. She said as a result of record-breaking sales tax revenue, both communities had increased staff in recent years. But this year, as the economy plummeted, Aspen and Vail eliminated or froze several employment positions.


Landry had benchmarked Whistler against Vail and Aspen earlier this year to show the tax increase was not unjust.


Last year's 5.5 per cent tax increase was the first time in more than 20 years that the municipality raised taxes above the rate of inflation.