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Editorial

An issue bigger than WEF?

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On Monday night, 7 p.m. at Millennium Place, Whistler council and the people of Whistler will address an issue that has caused more angst, anger, passion, lobbying, hyperbole and images – Whistler will forever live in the realm of "what could have been" until Desmond Tutu appears here on skis – than any issue in memory. The Emerald Forest deal and the Nicklaus North public hearing pale in comparison.

I write, of course, about the special meeting on the World Economic Forum.

For all those anxiously awaiting debate on the mother of all issues, you are too late. It was addressed last Monday.

I write here, of course, about taxes.

It doesn’t inspire the same passion as the WEF. There are no global elite to champion or crucify. The issues aren’t as complex or, conversely, as black and white as globalization and the free movement around the valley required to sustain local businesses.

Yet the taxation issue is at the heart of sustainability.

For those whose eyes glazed over at the headline in the news section, and who haven’t abandoned this column already, the municipality this week introduced a bylaw to set its property tax rate for this year. The short story is council has, as it suggested in December, established a zero per cent municipal tax increase for each class of property for 2002 – based on the average assessed property value in each class. That last bit is part of the story.

The average increase in assessed value of properties in Whistler this year is about 11 per cent. If your property’s assessed value increased 11 per cent over last year, your municipal property taxes won’t change. If your property assessment went up less than 11 per cent your municipal property taxes will actually go down. However, if you property assessment went up more than 11 per cent – and some went up 100 per cent – your municipal property taxes are going up.

But that’s only a part of the story. The municipality and Whistler council have, by and large, done what they could to keep municipal property taxes at the level they were last year. The provincial government has not.

The final total on your tax notice, which will be mailed out at the middle of next month, will be significantly higher than last year. (Those who are renting and don’t get a tax notice, rest assured your landlord is getting the notice and may have to increase your rent next fall.) That’s because school taxes make up the largest single portion of the tax notices.

School taxes are also based on assessed property values. As noted earlier, the average increase in the assessed value of Whistler properties was 11 per cent. On top of that, Victoria has indicated it will increase school taxes by 2 per cent across the province. But in the Howe Sound School District, because property assessments have increased, that means a 7.1 per cent increase in school taxes, on average.

The end result is that Whistler property owners are paying more in total property taxes this year than last year, and percentage-wise less of that total is staying in Whistler.

If anybody is still following (and I’m not even sure I am, but I’ll keep nodding in agreement), what all this means is it’s going to cost more to live here, at least in part because the province needs more money to run the schools. Now it’s hard to criticize spending on education, it’s not some narrow, government-defined concept like, say, a treaty referendum. And Whistler schools are struggling to make ends meet just as are other schools around the province.

However, because of the anomalies of Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor, Whistler paid 68 per cent of the school taxes in 2000 , while having less than 20 per cent of the district’s student population. This year that percentage is going to increase again.

The province has a system that is supposed to address such inequities in property values within a school district but, incredibly, Whistler didn’t qualify.

The consequences of these combined tax increases are just starting to be felt. They will be especially felt by seasonal workers who rent suites in homes. They will be especially felt by homeowners who no longer qualify for the homeowners grant because their properties’ assessed value has increased so much. They will be especially felt by long-term weekenders who decide the taxes are just too much for a second home. And they will be especially felt by retirees who can’t afford continually increasing costs on fixed incomes.

There seems to be no shortage of people willing to purchase the properties of those who decide they can no longer afford Whistler, so the revenue will continue to flow to governments. But can the community afford to lose the people who have invested time and careers in Whistler?

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