"Why should Whistler, the richest community in our province, receive any public funds for facilities average British Columbians will never use?"
- David Adam of Vancouver, in a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun published Dec. 27, 2002
Mr. Adam's simplistic point of view is something Whistler has faced for years, but it is likely to be raised more frequently in the lead up to the Olympic plebiscite in Vancouver and the IOC vote in July to decide who will host the 2010 Games. Mr. Adam, as you might have guessed, was opposed to the Olympics coming to B.C.
How many people share Mr. Adam's point of view will be significant because it is during the next few months that Whistler is hoping to receive some special consideration from the province, in the form of new financial tools and relief on school taxes.
The new year brought the news that property assessments had skyrocketed again this year; hardly surprising when demand for Whistler property has continued to grow and supply is restricted. We won't know exactly what the impact on school taxes is for rich Whistlerites until the province sets the rate later this year, but last year Whistler paid roughly three quarters of the district's school taxes. And it was not just the wealthy property owners who had to pay into this unbalanced formula. Rents paid on suites and cabins leased by workers also reflected the school tax inequity in the district.
Whistler's proposals to the province for new financial tools - a greater share of the hotel tax, a percentage of the provincial sales tax, or a specific resort sales tax - remain unanswered at present, but the Adam's Philosophy is likely to be a factor in any decision by a provincial government that is playing defence now that the premier has stuck his foot in it.
Not that all Whistler businesses would necessarily welcome the new financial tools either. There is a feeling among some that if the financial tools involve a new tax on top of the PST and GST that it will turn some visitors off of Whistler. If a new tax reduces sales and/or costs business a little more to administer it may be helping the municipality but it's hurting businesses, so the thinking goes.
We might note that many Whistler business owners saw the school taxes on their businesses jump more than 20 per cent last year.
Whistler businesses, and the resort as a whole, are also facing access restrictions - likely for the next five or six years. In mid-April, work on the Culliton Creek-Cheakamus Canyon section of Highway 99 will begin, just 39 years after the old logging road was first paved. Construction will involve 20-minute closures, three times a day, four days a week for nine months of the year. There will also be some night closures. The project is expected to take up to two years, according to the graphs, grids, pie charts and related data presented by the Ministry of Transportation in the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation.
That takes us to April 2005, when the $600 million upgrade of the highway between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish is expected to commence. That project will involve more highway closures and take three or four more years.
Of course, if Vancouver-Whistler isn't awarded the 2010 Olympics the timing of the major upgrade could be delayed. But for businesses in the richest community in our province the highway restrictions they will face and those they may face mean a little more uncertainty on top of the hefty costs they are being saddled with.
It's not that highway closures are new; people along the Sea to Sky corridor have dealt with them for years. But - and this may be news to Mr. Adam - Whistler is a significant factor in the provincial economy, contributing an estimated $2 billion annually to the provincial economy. That revenue is based largely on businesses providing reliable service.
And it's not just visitors that need to get up and down the highway, it's goods from a myriad of Lower Mainland suppliers and, increasingly, workers commuting.
Average British Columbians.