When the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) released its third B.C. Municipality Spending Watch report, which indicates municipal spending is outpacing what residents can afford, local governments across British Columbia launched their defenses.
Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) economic viability general manager Lisa Landry says the information in the report just doesn't apply to this community.
CFIB's data was collected between 2000 and 2008. It examines municipal spending as it relates to population and inflation growth, also known as the Fiscal Sustainability Gap (FSG). According to CFIB analysts, a healthy FSG is one where spending stays in line with population and inflation growth, but increases in spending by local governments across the province have driven it to more than twice the rate deemed sustainable by CFIB. Between 2000 and 2008, property taxes jumped 52 per cent across B.C. and user fees rose by 104 per cent.
"If municipalities continue to spend at rates double that of population and inflation growth, the sustainability of the programs and services these programs fund will be in jeopardy - taxpayers' paycheques are simply not increasing at an equal rate," stated the report.
"If operating spending had stayed in line with the population and inflation benchmark since 2000, British Columbians would have saved more than $883 million in 2008 alone, an average of $228 per person or $904 for a family of four."
The report analyses cities based on size, which put Whistler in the smallest category reserved for populations under 10,000. Spending of tax dollars by RMOW landed it near the top of high spenders in the same bracket, but its status was softened by a reference in the report to extenuating circumstances related to the 2010 Winter Olympics. In the post 2010 era, however, it cautioned that RMOW's current spending is "clearly unsustainable and will have to be curtailed."
In the CFIB report Whistler's operating expenditure growth between 2000 and 2008 is 77 per cent and its population and inflation growth is 24 per cent, creating a FSG of 3.12. It calculates that excess spending in 2008 came to $15,541,035. If this spending had been reduced, the average family of four would have saved $6,407.
By way of per capita spending Whistler was the highest, coming in at $5,418 per person. Second on the list was Nelson in the West Kootenay region, which spends $2,558 per resident. Per capita operating spending in Whistler between 2000 and 2008 increased by 65.9 per cent.
But Landry says the logic behind the report's calculations don't apply to Whistler and it's not just because of the Olympics.
"Per capita information, or any such analysis where you take something and divide it by our census population of 10,000 people, is extremely misleading. That is a key to understanding our community as a resort community," said Landry, who emphasized that separate, non-property tax funding avenues are used to maintain services specific to tourism.
"Another very important side to consider, our town population does not represent what it does in other communities. Our permanent population is significantly outweighed by our visitor population, thus rendering any per capita (expenditure divided by permanent population) calculations misleading. Our community can go from 10,000 to 50,000 overnight, and we must maintain infrastructure at a level that is five times our population."
Based on numbers made available through Whistler2020, the estimated number of people in Whistler overnight averages out to 24,380 - almost 2.5 times greater than its permanent population. Also relevant is the assessed value of all the property in Whistler, which was $4.2 billion in 2000 and climbed to $9,999,496,337 (effectively $10 billion) in 2008. That accounts for $1.6 billion in new infrastructure that requires additional municipal service.
"Our members continue to find the cost of doing business in Whistler extremely high, in part due to commercial property taxes, in part due to commercial lease rates and, to a lesser extent, due to the cost of managing a transient workforce," said Whistler Chamber of Commerce president, Fiona Famulak. "Concerns over commercial property tax rates, held by many chambers across British Columbia, including Whistler, continue to be addressed via the lobbying efforts of the BC Chamber of Commerce, in an effort to ensure that taxes paid by businesses across the Province reflect services they use."