News » Whistler

Financial tools, land bank, CDP — the candidates speak

comment

Whistler’s runoff election race for the last seat on council is set to heat up in the next week. Eleven candidates are vying for the sixth seat at the table. Voters will go to the polls at municipal hall on Saturday, Jan. 11 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. An advanced poll will be held on Saturday, Jan. 4 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

All unsuccessful candidates from the Nov. 16 election were allowed to join in the race and only two (Stephanie Sloan and Bob Calladine) opted out. The winning candidate will join Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and councillors Nick Davies, Kristi Wells, Ken Melamed, Caroline Lamont and Gordon McKeever.

Since the November municipal election Mayor Hugh O'Reilly has outlined three primary opportunities for the new council: financial tools, a land bank for resident housing, and the comprehensive sustainability plan.

Candidates were asked if these are or should be the primary opportunities and were provided space to comment on what they could contribute to these opportunities as the sixth councillor. Here is what they said:

Please note that due to Christmas deadline schedules Rick André and Tyler Mosher were not able to comment in time for this issue. Their responses will appear on the Pique Web site – www-piquenewsmagazine.com – as soon as they are available and they will appear in print in the Friday, Jan. 10 issue.

RICK ANDRE

Financial tools, the CSP and the new land bank seems like much the same to me. The decisions will decide where Whistler will build our future subdivisions. I feel we need to keep the locals as close to the main village as possible. The idea to develop the Callaghan Valley bothers me when it’s over 9 kilometres to the main village. The Cheakamus seems to be the better and more logical choice so we can decrease rather than increase travel time for employees that will live in these new subdivisions. By using the land near Function Junction we can lessen the distance we need to travel to get home. We can allow for the buses to remain in the municipality’s boundaries rather than looking at expanding our boundaries. Why put more strain on the emergency response times? We need to work as a village to ensure the safety of our citizens.

We need to work together with other resorts to set a standard to ensure we can keep the tourists coming back to our fair resort rather than going to others. Due to the amount of taxes we contribute to the provincial and federal governments we deserve more than what we get here. Sure, our homes are worth a lot but it’s not by our choice. We get taxed the highest and see very little back. We must join with other resorts to allow the levels of government to begin to understand the importance of helping our locals so we can continue to pay these high taxes and don’t have to worry about losing the tourism base we have due to outrageous tax hikes. We must develop a strong community plan to ensure we do not lose our locals due to the high cost of living here. If elected I will do my best to ensure we can develop a strong community plan to protect all interests without building larger homes so we keep Whistler affordable.

SHANE BENNETT:

Other than new tourist-based taxes the main concept is to convince the cash-strapped provincial government to rebate/kickback taxes paid from this town of plenty while not offending other needy/poorer municipalities in B.C. We could focus on rewarding municipal employees if they can spot inefficiencies and provide a solution to save money. I doubt the mayor has a grasp of the problem or any possible solutions based on the response to a question I posed to him a while back. I asked him why the municipality does not buy Internet and technology services from local companies and he said because of the NAFTA agreement. It is law that U.S. and Mexico must have bid access to any purchase the municipality makes.

The land bank is promised to our council provided they support the Olympic bid process and use the unsuited land for resident housing. I will state some problems with this as I see them and a solution. Travel time, cost of car and maintenance for employees, getting mad at traffic, being late for work and adding to the village parking problem is inexcusable. A big security risk in Whistler is the highly explosive propane storage facility located in the heart of Whistler. There is enough explosive power in the facility to wipe Whistler off the map.

My solution: the unsuitable land should be borrowed against the proceeds and should be used to purchase the land Centra gas has. This land is central to where most employees are working and is next to a beautiful and secluded pond. Also approve and if needed, help fund a natural gas pipeline from Squamish to Whistler that doubles as a year round 120-kilometre world class Eco-trail. The benefits are as follows: employers will have happier employees (less travel time means more pleasure time), less greenhouse gases because the 500 or so happy employees are walking roller-blading, X-skiing, or busing it to work on time, all the amenities they need are yards away at Nesters. The Centra Trail will attract enthusiasts from around the world, diversify and spawn joint tourist-based ventures between Squamish, Whistler and Indigenous peoples and make Whistler a much safer place by removing a possible catastrophic disaster in waiting. PLEASE read this again.

The comprehensive sustainability plan should comprise three categories: social, economic, infrastructure sustainability. They are all intertwined but have to be dealt with separately.

RALPH FORSYTH:

I agree with these priorities. The key is to keep focused on them and set some timelines to accomplish them. Without timelines any goal is in jeopardy of failure. Throughout my campaign, I promised that I would make affordability my first priority. I believe the "Financial Tools" the mayor mentions are a significant step toward addressing the issue. The mayor suggests three options; I prefer the two that get the province to share a greater percentage of the tax that is already collected. I’m not a huge fan of the third. I don’t think we should be downloading all of our costs onto visitors, and I certainly don’t think Whistler’s citizens should be asked to "pony up" any more dough either. I am also concerned that there are no priorities for how the money will be spent. Will it be spent on initiatives that help strengthen and support Whistler’s families, seniors and young people? I believe that focusing on Whistler’s families is the key; we must find a way to retain families. Raising a family is challenging enough, but it’s made even harder with the enormous financial burden that exists in Whistler.

The land bank is going to be the most controversial issue that this council faces. I think we all agree that a land bank north of the village would be ideal, but I don’t buy some of the arguments about the Callaghan being too far (most mountain bikers in Whistler would ride 16 km as a warm up!). If there is no option north of the village and the Callaghan represents an opportunity for growing families like mine to buy a house, then I believe that the community will decide that it’s a good option.

Community consultation will be the key to navigating our way through these issues and I plan to keep my campaign promise of keeping one office day per week to do just that. I also believe that this consultation process is necessary if we are going to bring the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan to fruition. If we are to create a shared vision of what we want our community to look like, we need to find innovative ways to involve the public. (Council should try skiing with locals; it works great!) If the public supports the plan, it will provide council with the direction to make decisions that reflect the values of our community.

DAVE KIRK:

Two legacies, two opportunities, two potentials to secure the future for RMOW are the land bank for employee housing and new financial tools and I completely agree with Mayor O’Reilly’s assessment. Building in the Callaghan Valley has already stirred the masses who see this as a potential open marketplace once the door is opened. Others feel that the Cheakamus North site, contiguous to existing services, should be the only choice.

My knowledge of the situation is much greater than most because of my previous role on council. And yet, I could not honestly say to you that one site should be chosen over the other. This is simply because from a planning basis, facts and figures have not yet been produced to justify why or where development should conclusively occur. Once this is known, it should be put to the public realm for discussion.

My personal inclination has always been to support the Cheakamus North site. I do not believe in the "down valley" and "up valley" syndrome as a perceived solution. This has never successfully occurred in Vail or Aspen or any other models.

New financial tools, if they are the right ones, can extremely relieve the financial burdens many local residents experience. Most of us resent the truly excessive school tax levied upon our properties by the province. Unless this nut (government) can be cracked, permanent residents will face the continuing uphill struggle simply known as affordability or the lack of it. This is why new financial tools are important to achieve, the simplest form being a resort tax. The trick here, of course, is to tax the visitor, not the resident, in ways that are not oppressive, offensive or so onerous as to discourage one from coming to Whistler. If and once a new resort tax were in place the funds derived should be placed in programs which enhance our resort product and reduce financial burdens on permanent residents.

The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan is essential to provide a road map for our next 20 years. We will have the opportunity to assess the results of potential decisions before they are actually implemented when the plan is completed. And we know how critical this is becoming in a place where growth limits are finite, and established, and where business continually demands to expand. So I absolutely support getting on with the completion of this plan.

TED MILNER:

Mayor O’Reilly is right. These are the primary issues. However circumstances, and perceived urgency are pushing for them to be considered in reverse logical order.

The Comprehensive Sustainability Plan (CSP) is to serve as our updated Official Community Plan (OCP). The Municipal Act requires an OCP. Our old one is out of date. The CSP will give us a plan to set out our environmental priorities, to create a strong, stable community and to encourage a vibrant, growing local economy. The CSP will help us with principles for land use, limits to growth, good resident housing and other basic underpinnings for our vision of Whistler.

The land bank is offered by the province to meet our need for first rate employee housing. It will consist of 300 acres in the lower Callaghan Valley, the southern Cheakamus area and other parcels yet to be named. It isn’t logical to debate the use of the Callaghan before the community decides on overall land use in the CSP. The land is coming anyway. Let’s decide how to use it with a plan. The great strategist is the guy who generates great options…. And keeps them open.

The financial tools requested from the province could include resort sales taxes, shared PST, expanded hotel tax etc. This will shift some of the cost of the resort to our visitors, rather than having the entire burden paid for by property taxes. Resort costs should be set out and limited by the choices made in the CSP. Business has to be treated fairly. An open tax grab won’t work for anyone. Therefore the CSP creates a framework to utilize the land bank. And the financial tools support the CSP wish-list by paying for the community’s choices. We don’t need to do this backwards. The process to create the CSP has lost credibility. It should be re-thought. We need a financial strategy to manage the funding impacts of employee housing and our capital costs. We need to protect the interests of both Whistler taxpayers and businesses. I want to help get the CSP back to the community. I can help form a financial plan.

We may well win the 2010 Olympics, and I hope we do. The $300-million Legacy Package will certainly require strategic management. The CSP should give direction. I can help with that too.

TYLER MOSHER

The most important opportunity facing council is developing the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan (CSP). It provides the framework for our decision making process over the next five years. It allows us to determine how and when we will take advantage of our affordability issues. With this plan we should be able to identify our housing needs and set out a timeline with bed units that need to be retained and/or built as our resort matures.

A land bank for residential housing is already established. The priority for council should be developing a policy for retaining and creating employee housing within our existing neighbourhoods and the village. My degree in Environmental Planning provides me with the knowledge to facilitate a housing policy within the CSP that results in more employee housing where people have a sense of ownership and can afford to live in Whistler.

The financial tools provide opportunities but are vague. Within the new Community Charter and our relationship with the province, council should be able to reduce our education tax, establish a new formula for the Home Owners’ Grant and create a resort tax that retains more tourism dollars for our infrastructure costs and its maintenance. As a homeowner struggling to afford these expenses, I have an invested interest to reduce them.

However as a young adult trying to afford to live here these tools are not enough to combat our affordability problem. As a councillor I want to develop a locals card that provides discounts for our residents and a parking pass for convenience parking. Our affordability issue is complex.

As an entrepreneur I lend a keen ingenuity to council. I am not afraid to test new ideas while being critically realistic of their outcome. I am solution oriented.

As a small business owner I offer a financial acumen that allows me to ask the right questions regarding our municipal expenditures and business partnerships.

I am worried about the domination of Intrawest with respect to managing Tourism Whistler's reservation system and our municipal golf course. If elected I will work hard to ensure the independent retailer is not pushed out of Whistler. I do not have any conflicts of interest and believe diversity is one of our keys to success.

I believe in being proactive as we look to the future. We must not cook the goose that laid the golden egg. For more information please go to

www.tylermosher.com. I am your missing link.

SHELLEY PHELAN:

The three opportunities outlined are in response to three larger issues: affordability, housing and sustainability. And yes... I agree that these are the "big three."

These initiatives have been in the works for some time and are now close to fruition. So it is in our best interests to follow through on them, as they will provide partial solutions to fundamental issues facing Whistler.

The one common denominator of all three opportunities lies squarely in the community consultation process, which has been largely ineffective to date.

Of these three, the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan ( Whistler. It's Our Future ) is paramount. It is like our roadmap, our business plan for the next 20 years. Without it, we have no frame of reference for decision making. So it is essential to complete the last phases ASAP. The land bank decision will flow from the CSP, and the affordability issue/financial tools will be addressed through a public input process, set to begin this quarter.

The CSP, while it has attempted at great cost to involve the community, has been largely unsuccessful to date in motivating public participation. In my opinion, the consultants' reports have been far too dry and complex to ignite any degree of enthusiasm.

I see my many years of resort communication and management experience as making the biggest difference. I recognize where and how the previous efforts have failed, and I have creative proposals for turning them around.

I am solutions-focused, an "outside the box" thinker. I am also committed to involving the community in all important decisions before council.

One idea is to link the community input process of the CSP with the issuing of a resident ID card. This card would be available to any eligible voter, and offer across the board discounts for Whistler locals. When applying for the card (as any cost-conscious local would surely be motivated to do), the resident would be given the CSP "proposed futures" options, and given a period of time to review/assess them and cast their vote. Their card is issued upon the return of the CSP survey. (Note: the communication of these options must be both simple and compelling, neither of which could be said of the original consultants’ reports.)

With this approach, I would estimate an 80-100 per cent response rate of eligible voters, a phenomenal improvement over the 1-2 per cent that have participated thus far. As in all matters before council, communication is the key!

CHRISTOPHER QUINLAN:

Firstly, I see the financial tools and the comprehensive sustainability plan as unfinished business from the previous council, rather than new opportunities.

Quite simply the financial tools, which were paraded in front of us as given "Olympic legacies" must be delivered by the provincial government. It was a mistake not to secure more than a memorandum of understanding on this initiative before we endorsed the bid. This was the greatest leverage we had at any point to ensure we obtained these "tools".

The comprehensive sustainability plan must be completed. The efforts to date have been less than successful because they have failed to engage the public in a meaningful exchange of ideas and directions on this plan. I will not rehash the time and money wasted on consultants and public meetings that completely ignored the residents’ desires. I will push for an expedited conclusion to this process. I will ensure that we use effective and measurable methods of public consultation. This will ensure that the process is driven by the people it was designed to serve. The reason we must work as quickly and efficiently as possible to complete this plan is that it is tied directly to the land bank and residential housing. The plan will give us direction on where to go with the choices we have been given by the province. Personally, I am most exited by the options given by the memorandum of understanding announced at the last council meeting. This gives us the opportunity to choose a number of smaller parcels of crown land for residential housing within the municipal boundaries. We would then remain more within our existing footprint.

Once we properly finish these jobs, we can look to the land bank itself. The financial tools will help us with funding the initiatives we decide to undertake. The sustainability plan will give us direction with where to go with housing.

What must be made an immediate priority are the "non cost housing initiatives" as outlined in the staff report at the last council meeting. This option is much more in keeping with the concept of infill as a solution to our housing needs. I will ensure that all the options are thoroughly explained to the community. I will ensure that community input is embraced not ignored. I will ensure that these initiatives are expedited without any more unnecessary studies or consultants.

MITCH RHODES: Underlying every opportunity are challenges. I believe Whistler’s primary opportunity/challenge is keeping the resort a vibrant place to visit, work and live. The three opportunities outlined by Mayor O’Reilly are complex, inherently connected and are laden with challenges. I will deal with each of them in turn.

Financial Tools:

Changes to the Provincial Government’s Community Charter legislation will give B.C. communities the opportunity to raise funds from non-traditional sources such as road tolls, hotel room tax, fuel tax, local entertainment tax, resort tax, parking stall tax, and user fee taxes. In Whistler we call these opportunities financial tools.

Recalculating the school tax formula, negotiating a higher portion of the hotel tax from the province and exploring public/private partnerships are sometimes presented as financial tools, but they are not. Such matters can be undertaken with existing legislation and Whistler should be pursuing these opportunities with vigor. As a councillor I would insist upon it and believe the community would benefit from my financial expertise and participation in such issues.

It’s my understanding that the RMOW is seriously considering a resort tax. For more on my views regarding financial tools, look for my full-page letter in next week’s edition of the local papers.

Land Bank for Resident Housing:

Securing a land bank as part of Whistler’s Olympic Legacies is a great opportunity. The challenge: a land bank does not equal resident housing now or maybe ever. And Whistler needs to resolve its affordability/housing now. So what’s the plan? One option is the development of 8,000 restricted bed units in the Callaghan. What will be the tax increase in Whistler proper to subsidize the services such as water and sewage treatment and transportation to that neighbourhood? In a political climate to solve Whistler’s affordability/housing problems, I fear that in-depth financial analysis of the Callaghan may not occur. The Callaghan has the potential to make Whistler less affordable, not more. As a councillor I will draw upon my financial experience to fully examine the opportunities and challenges associated with the land bank and all its various options.

Comprehensive Sustainability Plan ( Whistler. It’s Our Future ):

Creating a new vision for Whistler – directing the community for the next decade is a wonderful opportunity. The $740,000 price tag and the loss of credibility over consultant selection have left the public disillusioned.

The project faces huge challenges and would benefit from my sustainability training and financial scrutiny.

AMAR VARMA:

The financial tools are very important to Whistler as it will give us access to funds that are not available to us, but all the council can do at the present time is to join with other resort communities and lobby Victoria with one voice. The land bank issue is now basically a choice of where we would like to see residential housing, the choice between out of Whistler or within Whistler. I am opposed to any housing which would bus working people to an area outside Whistler. The sustainability plan has to be re-thought as I still do not believe that enough consultation with the people of Whistler has yet been accomplished. We must find a way so that more people will be able to participate in expressing their thoughts, hopes and wants. I would do my very best to represent the citizens of Whistler and insure that their wishes are kept to the forefront of any decisions made by council.

MARIANNE WADE:

Regarding Financial Tools, I agree that we need to find opportunities within our current hotel tax, school tax, and PST by examining the proportions retained by Whistler. I do not support an additional resort tax. Additional taxes will affect both the local residents’ and tourists’ spending power by reducing net income and will have a negative multiplier effect, reducing the net dollars spent in this resort. I believe Whistler is at a critical point where our price level is becoming a consideration in tourists’ choice to come here or not. Finally, council needs to examine if our budget and project allocations are achieving the highest and best use of our existing funds. My experience in budget management and cost-benefit analysis in multi-million dollar land developments will allow me as a councillor to ask specific questions on budgets, fund allocation, and bring experiences in budget construction. To date, this council has not had someone with this particular experience.

The land bank for resident housing is a good opportunity to address our housing issues but the location of the land bank is critical to achieve sustainability goals. It is important that resident housing be located next to support services such as: daycare, transit, fire halls, schools, and basic commercial services such as a grocery store. It is also important to integrate resident housing in neighbourhoods in a sensitive manner. The question is whether Whistler wants to spread down the valley or concentrate its development on existing crown lands and vacant lands that lie within current RMOW boundaries. In order to find solutions to our housing issues, a full understanding of how to implement and deliver affordable housing is required to build the necessary cost-benefit analysis of the location of resident housing land banks. I bring 15 years of successfully delivering over 1,000 affordable housing units across British Columbia, which is a very unique skill that is not currently on council.

I am concerned about the large sums of money being spent on the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. Council needs to review the budget and timeline, set some immediate deadlines and utilize existing reports. My experience in hiring consultants and managing timelines would allow me as a councillor to ask specific questions to clarify budgets, process, and timelines. My experience in understanding the interrelationship of social, economic, environmental, and development concerns on a broader vision could provide knowledge on how to expedite this initiative so that our OCP and planning tools are updated quickly in a cost sensitive manner.