News » Whistler

Council approves property tax, transit increases

Staff looking at ways to cap tax increase at four per cent for 2011



Whistler council dealt with the first stages of the budget Tuesday night, approving the anticipated four per cent property tax increase, as well as a transit fare increase of 50 cents per ride.

The report presented to council dealt primarily with cutting the Resort Municipality of Whistler's $2.8 million 2011 budget shortfall. A motion to accept the report's recommendations passed 6-1, with Councillor Ralph Forsyth opposed.

While the property tax increase is now in place, the resolution also stated that staff would find ways to cap the increase at 4 per cent for 2011.

The transit fare increase, which raised no discussion among council, brings the bus fare to $2.50 per ride, now on par with Victoria's adult fare and Vancouver's adult one zone fare, and the highest tier for bus fares in the BC Transit system.

The 10-ride, One-Day, monthly, six-month and 12-month passes will all increase as well but will still cost less than equivalent products in Vancouver or Victoria. Emma Dal Santo, transit demands manager for the RMOW, said that $2.50 per ride is above average for the rest of Canada.

The increase will save the municipality an additional $350,000. The RMOW will also utilize the $235,000 Gas Tax Grant to help fund transit for 2011.

Joe Paul, manager of developmental services, told council that Whistler has the lowest cost recovery in the BC Transit system, at 18 per cent compared to fellow tier-1 system communities Kelowna and Kamloops, which have cost recoveries of  per cent.

The report focused on the $2.8 million shortfall the RMOW is facing for the 2011 budget year. Ken Roggeman, manager of fiscal planning, outlined three rounds of municipal cuts to expenditures that will bring that shortfall down to $820,000, but "does not contemplate the reduction to services provided by the municipality," according to Roggeman.

"Very clearly, this shortfall must be eliminated," he said.

A prior round of cuts hammered out by the municipality's financial department had lowered the shortfall by $504,000.

Round #2 cuts include the reduction of contingency budgets by $126,000, park/village maintenance cost reductions and the removal of a full-time administrative position, all of which will save the municipality $212,000.

Round # 3 cuts include transit cuts, including the refinement of BC Transit administration costs and the recalculation of the Squamish-Whistler commuter costs, which will save $200,000, as well as the delay of the repayment for the Fitzsimmons watershed debris barrier and parking lots, which will save $983,000.

Roggeman said that after paying for the paving at Day lots 1 through 4, operating costs and contributions to transit there isn't enough revenue to repay the capital funds spent on the debris barrier.

Round #4 focused on revenue increases including the transit fare increase and the Gas Tax Grant, adding up to $585,000 of saved funds.

Also, the number of Full Time Equivalent positions in the municipality will be reduced from 323 in 2010 to 310 in 2011.

"We are planned to be at a level that existed between 2007 and 2008," Roggeman said.

The motion passed with an amendment, put forward by Councillor Chris Quinlan, for staff to return to council with recommendations to address the Whistler Public Library budget gap that will result in the library closing on Sundays.

This amendment came from discussion following two proposed amendments by Forsyth regarding the library: the first, for council to find funding to bridge the $54,000 gap, which failed 5-2, with Councillor Tom Thomson and Forsyth supporting.

Councillor Eckhard Ziedler said he wouldn't support the motion because it would propel the notion that libraries should be solely funded by the public, when he has not seen that to be the case elsewhere in North America.

"As a library, there is an expectation that libraries are funded solely by the taxpayer. Id' like to know why that is," he said.

Forsyth's second amendment motion was to begin discussions to amend or renegotiate the 2011 staff pay increases to find ways to save the municipality money and reduce its shortfall.

He used the library's funding woes as just one example where renegotiating contracted staff pay increases could help unload the financial burdens throughout the rest of the municipality.

"I think we need to have the conversation if we know that steep increases have gone over. In our discussions at our library board, everyone agreed, staff included, that if we could forgo the staff increases that would be fine, and then the library can stay open," said Forsyth, who serves on the library board.

Library staff are paid by the municipality and subject to the wage increases.

The motion, which Mayor Ken Melamed called "offside," was not seconded by anyone on council and therefore failed.

Melamed has told Pique in the past that Whistler staff wage increases follow the wage settlements in the Lower Mainland, and that they are set by policy and adjusted at the rate of inflation.