The municipal budget is a multi-faceted beast. It soaks up public dollars and spends them quietly. While residents don't underestimate the value of tax-funded public services, many question the inevitability of taxes floating skyward in a roofless house.
As the municipality reviews preliminary budget numbers for 2011 and beyond, next year's forecasted four per cent property tax hike is looking optimistic at best. It's probably going to be higher, but by how much depends on how the municipality decides to structure its budget.
Unforeseen changes to the 2011 financial plan have put the net negative impact on the municipality's financial resources at $2.8 million, at a time that reserves and the operations budget need to be flush. The ensuing fiscal tinkering is shaping our financial future.
Keeping tabs on the municipal budget is critical to local democracy - understanding it allows citizens to organize their priorities and participate in healthy discourse regarding public coffers and allocation of resources. Over the next few months, Pique is going to help you, the reader, do just that. The following is the first in a series of stories on the municipal budget that will follow the process from start to finish. We have tried to break it into easy-to-read segments that offer a clear view of the major issues facing the municipality in the post-Olympic epoch. While placating disgruntled taxpayers is as easy as cutting contributions to capital and doling out a tax break, public officials say that option isn't available if Whistler is going to keep its high standards. Here's why:
Reaching Build Out
In 2011, Whistler will experience its first year in a non-growth capacity since Myrtle and Alex Philip purchased property on Alta Lake in 1914. Simply put, all the development and expansion that will ever take place, has already been planned. Sure, some buildings will be torn down and others will go up, but Whistler's footprint has been stamped in the snow and it's not expected to grow. This phenomenon is referred to as reaching build out and it means the financial bolstering that comes with expansion is gone. To put it into perspective, in 1992 Whistler's total assessed value was at $983 million. In 2010 it's hovering around $10 billion and for the first time since then growth has flat-lined. The RMOW is responsible for caring for all for the new infrastructure and they do it with taxpayer's money.
"The actual increment of growth for last year was $130 million, which is 1.3 per cent of $10 billion so you think 'Oh wow, $130 million seems like quite a lot of money,' but really, when you put it in context of how that is in relation to the existing assessed value that we already have, 1.3 is really quite a nominal growth figure," said Lisa Landry, RMOW's general manager of economic viability. "And one half of one per cent (of growth) is the go forward (for 2011 and beyond)."