Opinion » Editorial


Whistler councillors shared several interesting discoveries from their recent Colorado-Idaho road trip this week. For instance, one subdivision in Vail has its own professional lobbyist. Beaver Creek claims its market is "not the rich, it’s the filthy rich," and that Bachelor Gulch, another project of Vail Associates, held a lot lottery last year — for the filthy rich. The "winners" were given first right of refusal on lots that started at $1 million. They also ran into Demi Moore shopping in Sun Valley. Titillating as all that may be, some of the most useful information gleaned from the excursion had to do with municipal finances. Several of the American resorts have financial tools that tie their budgets to the success of the resort, rather than to property values and growth, including a tax system that requires visitors to carry a larger share of the load. Some simple comparisons: o In Vail property taxes account for 7 per cent of the town’s $27.5 million budget. In Whistler property taxes account for approximately 60 per cent of the $20.7 municipal budget. o A part-time Whistler resident, who also owns a place in Aspen, pays one-quarter of the property taxes on his Aspen property that he does on his Whistler property — even though his Aspen property is worth more. Both Aspen and Vail have other taxes to make up for their lower property tax rate. In Vail a ski lift tax contributes 8 per cent of the budget and a real estate transfer tax adds 6 per cent. But the biggest single contributor to municipal coffers is a 4 per cent retail sales tax collected by the town of Vail, accounting for 53 per cent of the town’s budget this year. Aspen, which also collects a retail sales tax, has seen revenues grow by about 6 per cent annually in recent years, even though skier visits haven’t increased significantly in 20 years and growth within the town is limited to 2 per cent annually (another interesting concept). Whistler’s budget, like that of every other Canadian municipality, is tied to property values. Whistler’s perpetual state of growth has helped increase property values. Works and services charges, levied against new developments, have also helped boost municipal revenues. But the plan for Whistler has always been that there will be a limit to growth, and hence a limit to future municipal budgets — even though the demand for municipal services is going to increase as growth slows. The only real financial tool the municipality has now that is tied to visitors is the 2 per cent hotel tax. Part of that goes to subsidize the free bus service within the village-Benchlands area while the rest is spent on resort-community projects, such as parks facilities, signs, trails and the like. The WRA has its eye on the entire 2 per cent. The Resort Municipality of Whistler is going to prepare a case for some type of tax reform that would see a greater portion of municipal revenue come from visitors and be tied more to the success of the resort than to the growth of the resort. A resort sales tax, on top of the 14 per cent the provincial and federal governments already collect, would probably do more harm than good to Whistler. Moreover, given that the current provincial government has considered taxing lift tickets, restaurant meals, green fees and other "luxury" items to add to its own revenues, it’s going to take a long-term effort to get Victoria to see things from Whistler’s perspective. However, with the growth in ski areas across the province, it may not be a battle Whistler has to fight alone.

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