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Council retreats to discuss priorities

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"Better late than never" was the sentiment echoed by council members this week in the wake of their recent working retreat.

Five months into this term in office, council took two half days to meet last week and debate and discuss their priorities this term.

"As with all councils, it takes a certain amount of time to gel and figure out how we're going to work together," said Mayor Ken Melamed. "It was part of the getting-to-know-each-other process."

Though several councillors expressed some disappointment that the retreat was not done earlier in the term, they said the exercise was worthwhile.

"We got down to some stuff that we should have done months ago," said Councillor Grant Lamont, who was newly elected this term.

"This should have been priority number one when we were elected."

But other pressing matters took up their time in the first five months of their term - property tax increases, temporary use permits for the 2010 Games, and approving a balanced budget, to name a few.

"It wasn't for lack of trying (to get together)," said Melamed.

The mayor said council discussed three main issues at its retreat/planning session: the Whistler2020 plan (the resort community's long-range sustainability plan), the 2010 Games, and keeping Whistler economically viable in the long-term. There was healthy debate and disagreement on those issues over the course of the retreat.

When asked about the difference between this new council and the one he chaired previously, Melamed paused to consider.

It's not so much the difference in personalities, he said, rather the difference in timing.

This council is dealing with not only the countdown to the biggest event the town has ever hosted, the 2010 Games, but also the pressures of a resort economy that has reached build-out, with no substantial development to pad out municipal coffers.

On top of all that there is the added stress of a global recession, which is being felt by taxpayers and constituents in Whistler, too.

This retreat was a way to talk candidly about some of those pressures and how they're affecting Whistler.

"The more you know your fellow council members and the senior staff... I think the better opportunity we have for passing some good legislation," said Councillor Tom Thomson, also newly elected this term. "You learn more and more about the inner workings of the local political scene."

A report on council's priorities, stemming from this retreat, will be made public in the weeks to come.

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