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Five Year Plan takes Whistler to 2010

Proposed budget pending May approval

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A slight increase in property taxes wasn’t enough to draw a crowd to the municipality’s annual open house on the budget Tuesday afternoon.

"Maybe we needed cookies," mused Councillor Bob Lorriman, who along with Councillor Tim Wake and several members of senior staff, was on hand to answer any questions from the public about the Five Year Financial Plan 2006-2010.

There was a burst of excitement at one point during the three-hour open house when two ladies rushed into the Flute Room at municipal hall in search of a councillor. Rather than pepper the two councillors with budget questions, however, they asked for a simple signature – one of the items to collect on their scavenger hunt.

Lorriman obliged, and tried his best to entice them to pick up the160-page budget package to no avail.

The plan was released in draft form on Friday April 21. The community was given one week to comment.

But there has been little feedback to date on the $49 million budget, which sets out spending from this year until the Games.

All joking about free cookies aside, Lorriman wondered why in this challenging economic climate, there was seemingly little interest in the municipality’s budget.

"Everyone says they want to be more engaged and yet no one shows up," said Lorriman.

The Five Year Financial Plan outlines the municipality’s revenues and expenditures in detail for 2006.

Property taxes will be going up slightly this year, even though the average home decreased nominally in assessed value this year. The proposed property tax increase is 1.9 per cent on average, which is on par with the rate of inflation for 2005.

That means if a property increased more than the average assessed value, the property taxes on that property will increase more than 1.9 per cent and vice versa.

The plan states that the nominal tax increase "will continue to challenge the municipality."

Budget author, and manager of fiscal planning, Lisa Landry, explained that while municipal taxes are going up the same as inflation, the increase does not take into account the three per cent growth in new construction in Whistler. That, she said, shows there’s implicit belt tightening within the municipality.

"There’s more growth so more demand for services in the community," said Landry. "But we only have given the departments enough in their budget to pay for inflation."

Most of the revenues in this year’s $49 million budget are collected from property taxes. The remainder comes from user fees and charges as well as interest and grants.

At the same time, expenses are climbing and demands on the revenues are growing.

This year there is a proposed $25 million capital plan.

The most significant capital projects are:

• library will see $5.5 million spent in 2006 out of the $9.7 million total project budget;

• day skier lots upgrades will see $330,000 spent this year, the remaining $3.6 million spent in 2007 and 2008, with paving, landscaping, lighting and signage prior to the Olympics;

• $50,000 will go to the upgrades to Gateway Loop this year, with another $1.9 million spent before the Olympics;

• $1 million for municipal hall renovations that will see a council chamber, meeting room space and additional washroom space;

• $2 million is budgeted over the next three years "to augment (the) Athlete’s Centre to provide for future community needs."

The centre will be part of the athletes village for the 2010 Games.

Landry will be presenting the Five Year Financial Plan to council on Monday night. At that time council will provide feedback publicly and will be able to make changes to the draft plan. The plan must be approved by mid-May as per legislation.

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