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Feature - Balancing the ledger

Council accomplishments and… works in progress

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Another consequence of that cap is that property values continue to climb. This is good for the municipality, in that 67 per cent of its revenue comes from property taxes, but increasing property values also make it more costly to live and play here.

It’s also argued that property owners are footing the bill for municipal infrastructure and services used by vacationing tourists. The idea behind a resort tax is that it would mean tourists contribute directly to municipal revenues, sharing some of the burden with property owners. But, the province has yet to see things Whistler’s way.

Still, municipal finances have gone through a number of changes in the last three years. The municipality now has an investment planner who oversees short and longer term investments to ensure greater returns. Municipal budgeting procedures have been revamped to reflect a more business-like approach. And five-year financial plans are now produced on an annual basis.

The four key strategic priorities identified in the five-year plan for 2002 were: preparation for the 2010 Olympic bid, introduction of The Natural Step through the Whistler. It’s Our Nature program, development of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan through the Whistler. It’s Our Future process, and alternative organizational strategies for the effective delivery of municipal services.

Most of the changes to municipal finances in recent years reflect priorities outlined in the Whistler 2002 document. In 1999 the Whistler Public Library became a municipal public library, and the municipality now provides 73 per cent of the library’s operating budget. This year the Whistler Community Arts Council’s budget was tripled, with the municipality now contributing $90,000 to the council.

Taxes increased each year from 1998 to 2001, while property values also climbed. But the provincial government cut funding and transfers to municipalities during this period as well.

The five year financial plan for 2001 showed contributions to capital reserves for the sewer fund and general fund were not meeting targets.

Among other financial commitments made in recent years, the municipality has had to guarantee the mortgage on the $2 million outstanding on Millennium Place, has authorized $1.5 million for a fire hall at Spring Creek and committed $5 million toward the future library/museum building.

With additional financial tools not yet in place, budgeting for a sustainable community with a limit on physical growth is becoming more difficult. One of the trends that has emerged in recent years is developers offering cash for municipal projects or amenities as part of their rezoning applications. The trend began in December of 2000 when the Houghton brothers proposed a cash amenity for the Spring Creek day care facility, in return for rezoning their lots at Taluswood to allow larger homes.