Councillors spoke out strongly against claims from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce that taxpayers face “taxation without representation” through the 6 per cent property tax increase.
“To suggest that council is not listening to the community, to suggest that we have denied input, to suggest that all this happened in matter of weeks with nobody having a chance to comment... It misses the mark,” Councillor Tim Wake said at Monday’s meeting.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler agreed.
“Last time I checked, everyone here was elected democratically,” said Zeidler.
“I believe this council represents not just the business community, but the community as a whole,” he said.
These comments came in response to a letter from the chamber dated Dec. 11 that alleged council’s decision to end the consultation process with the public was premature last November when “there is ample time to gain further input from the community.”
The letter, signed by chamber chair Dave Davenport, also strongly suggests that a better option would be for council to direct municipal staff to develop a budget with a tax increase on par with the rate of inflation, roughly 2.1 per cent.
“Initially when I saw the letter, I found the wording aggressive coming from a major partner in the community,” said Councillor Bob Lorriman.
“But I started to think through it. What is the root of this expression? And a few comments that were made in the letter contradicted what I thought we were doing,” he said.
Lorriman said council has been open to discussions with the community, inviting different groups to do workshops, including the chamber.
“They said they were not ready to come to us at that time, and I thought we would meet sometime in the spring,” he said.
Lorriman added: “I don’t think we’ve ever been approached by the chamber and said ‘no we don’t want to talk.’”
Mayor Ken Melamed agreed that council wants to continue the dialogue with the chamber.
“I don’t feel we betrayed that,” he said, adding that an open house on Jan. 29 will also allow for more public consultation on the 2008 budget.
Only Councillor Ralph Forsyth took a more empathetic approach to the letter’s content.
“I know there are a lot of hurt feelings around the table and around town over this,” Forsyth said. “We clearly left that expectation in the room that we were going to get back to them (the community). I can understand why there is a lot of misunderstanding on this,” he said.
The preliminary 6 per cent property tax increase has taken heat from the public since being approved by council in late November of this year. It was drafted by staff to mitigate a $3.8 million budget shortfall and is a significant departure from Whistler’s status quo of increasing property taxes based on the rate of inflation.
Many members of the chamber have been adamant in their opposition to the tax increase, which prompted the chamber board to draft their letter to the mayor and council.
The chamber’s board unanimously supported the letter, and copies were forwarded to local papers.
Chamber chair Dave Davenport, who attended Monday’s council meeting, said the chamber left the meeting disappointed.
“We wanted to accomplish two things. One was to revisit the possibility of something lower than 6 per cent, and two was to get increased dialogue between the community and council before this budget was put to bed,” said Davenport.
“I think we as a chamber failed on achieving either of those two things.”
Davenport added that the chamber is looking into what they can do next and their goals on the issue remain the same.
“And we will do anything we possibly can to have whatever dialogue we can to further this,” he said.