This is one of the most important times of the year for Whistler residents.
I'm not talking about ski season, or getting ready for a ridiculously busy weekend later this month now that Family Day and the U.S. Presidents Day long weekends fall at the same time. I'm talking about municipal budget season.
Now some may feel their eyes glaze over, or a slight panic at the idea of looking at row upon row of financial figures, but the reality is the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) budget touches everything in our lives from cycling down the Valley Trail to flushing toilets to enjoying the best tap water in the world (well, as far as Pique is concerned).
And consider this: residents told the RMOW in its own survey that they were not that satisfied with opportunities to provide input into municipal decision making. So take the opportunity now to head to www.whistler.ca/budget and get informed.
The budget open house this week was better attended than in previous years (I guess everyone was so content with RMOW spending they didn't need to come and voice any concerns [about our $6 million bus loop, for example], questions or even support?)—that's a good thing.
For those who took the time to take in the information boards, we learned that we are heading for a busy 2019 from an infrastructure-spending point of view.
Indeed, millions of dollars will be spent—$42.6—to be precise, on works that many of us won't see, but all of us use, over the next few years.
Take the water system: 168 kilometres of water main; 15 storage reservoirs; 14 ground-water wells; nine pump stations; 4,059 water service connections; 529 fire hydrants; and 1,932 mainline valves—approximately.
Pipes, underground parking envelopes, buildings, trails, water facilities—many are reaching their end-of-life cycle and need to be upgraded or replaced.
It sounds boring, I know, but looking after key components of our community such as water and sewers, parks and playgrounds is the very essence of the work a good local government carries out.
Planning is done over years with staff, if you are lucky, keeping a close eye on the degradation of infrastructure so that we are not hit with calamity.
The war chest for many of the spends we see in this proposed budget is our reserves, helped significantly with money from the Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) and the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI).
(A quick refresher on those: The provincial RMI program pumps money into B.C.'s resort communities to enhance tourism offerings. Last fall, the government committed to it as an ongoing initiative. The 2019 funding amounts will be confirmed in the spring. Whistler gets three per cent of the MRDT, a tax on short-term tourist accommodation, including hotel rooms, on top of the eight-per-cent Provincial Sales Tax. It was established in 1987 to fund tourism marketing and programs. MRDT funds are received by the RMOW and shared with Tourism Whistler. The funds are reinvested in the community, with expenditures approved by, and reported to, the provincial government.)
After the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there was considerable concern about the state of our reserves, which were getting depleted, and this, in part, led to a 24.5-per-cent tax increase over three years. While with hindsight the tax hike was a prudent move, it was one of the reasons the entire council and mayor were ousted from office in the 2011 election.
Currently there is about $84 million in reserves, down from a high of more than $100 million close to the end of 2014. In the past, it has been reported that about 20 per cent of property tax be "saved" each year into reserves in preparation for what, over time, will be hundreds of millions of dollars in upkeep of the resort's infrastructure.
As we move into this five-year financial plan, we should all be considering the RMOW's expenditures and asking questions (does it really cost $3 million for three public washrooms?)—after all, a lot of this money is ours, and are our reserves able to pay for the necessities facing us?
And remember, if you are not part of the process and fail to raise your concerns, you lose your chance to create change for the better for the whole community.