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Council, chamber to work together on next budget

Timeline and budget advisory committee being considered to increase public input

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After months of self-described “bickering through letters and local media”, Whistler Council and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce sat down Monday to discuss their partnership and lay out how the two can work together on the budgeting process next year.

The inaugural meeting — scheduled one month after the 2008 budget saga wrapped up — was positive, with both groups calling for more dialogue on the budget issue in the future.

“Hopefully this will be the first of many meetings,” said Councillor Bob Lorriman.

Chamber chair Fiona Famulak added Tuesday: “I am very pleased with the way the meeting went yesterday.

“I heard a lot of positive things, and we (the chamber) are excited that we are going to be involved and working towards something that will happen in 2008.”

Council and the chamber are looking to develop a clearly defined timeline for the 2009 budgeting process, as well as form a budget advisory committee to provide input from stakeholders.

Council members stressed, however, that setting strict deadlines for this year are not realistic, especially considering it is an election year. Planning may be more appropriate for 2008, with the program really taking off in 2009.   

“Council will make a decision on what parts of this we can implement at this time,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

“It is very innovative, very new and there are some issues that have been raised by some of the councillors that we need to look into.”

Regardless, Famulak said the chamber remains optimistic that a budgeting process similar to the one outlined on Monday can be started in 2008.

Council members also mentioned the difficulty of putting together an advisory committee of 12 stakeholders that represents both the community and has the required expertise in finance.

The chamber has been lobbying council for more public input since late last year, when it was first announced that property taxes might be raised 6 per cent to meet a budget shortfall.

In December, the chamber wrote a letter to council saying that taxpayers face “taxation without representation,” a statement which several council members took offense to. In the following months, the chamber took a less aggressive approach on the 2008 budget, instead focusing on what changes are required for the 2009 process to make sure it is community-wide, consultative and iterative.

Councillor Tim Wake said Monday that one of the challenges council also faced this past year was receiving input on the budget from community members with little understanding of the entire process. The process outlined in Monday’s meeting could help clarify some of that confusion.

The proposal will be referred to municipal staff for review.

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