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Council suspends pay parking at conference centre

Residents call on council members to ‘cut costs’ during heated meeting

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By suspending pay parking at the conference centre, municipal staff estimate the municipality will lose "a few thousand dollars a week."

The other members around the council table also got a chance to state their position on pay parking on Tuesday.

While each speech differed in tone, most councillors said they support pay parking but a more comprehensive look at parking in Whistler needs to be undertaken. Many councillors also admitted mistakes were made over the past few months, especially with the municipality's lack of communication about bringing pay parking to the conference centre.

"The timing could not have been worse," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth about the conference centre's pay parking.

"The responsibility of that rests squarely on the shoulders of council because we did not ask those questions.... We knew when we made this decision, when we were going through the budget process, that this was going to be unpopular."

Added Councillor Grant Lamont: "I believe we can go back and revisit this and come up with a solution that is more palatable to people."

The meeting kicked off with two presentations on the merits of charging fees for people to park in the village.

Jim Watts, whose private company Whistler Parking Management manages the Marketplace parking lots, discussed how there is no such thing as free parking, only subsidized parking and user pay parking.

He said if the municipality prices its pay parking correctly, the lots should be about 85 per cent full. The municipality should also look at charging different rates for different lots around the village.

Lisa Landry, the municipality's general manager of economic viability, also rehashed the budget and looked at the financial benefit of pay parking in a presentation titled "The economic reality of pay parking."

Between the three day skier lots and the Telus Conference Centre, the municipality expects to receive about $2.8 million a year in pay parking revenue, she said. That is equivalent to the whole fire department or the whole RCMP budget.

She also said that without pay parking, Whistler's series of property tax increases, planned between now and 2011, would increase to double digits.

The rowdy crowd also got their turn at the podium on Tuesday.

Six community members formally stated arguments they have already told council in e-mails, letters, blogs and petitions. Many of the comments brought up issues with the 2009 budget and municipal staff wages.

"Has mayor and council considered a reduction in the number of managers needed to run Whistler?" asked business owner Nathan McLeod, who spearheaded the paper petitions.

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