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Letters to the editor

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Some comments on the Flute land swap, and the proposed ski lifts. I am concerned about the apparent lack of process, procedure and communication.

I have worked on the permitting of a number of power plants throughout Canada. Most of these plants had a relatively benign impact, and one of them actually reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the region by up to 1 million tons per year. But for any power plant, however environment-friendly, there is a well-established permitting process in each province.

The permitting process ensures that the facility meets specific federal or provincial limits, such as those related to air emissions, noise etc. It also addresses land use, socio-economic and environmental impact issues. But all of the provinces, and in particular Alberta, put enormous and growing emphasis on the public information process, and require that the developer meets with those living close to the proposed facility, listens to their concerns and attempts to mitigate them.

In Alberta the provincial authorities will not even establish the terms of reference for an Environmental Impact Study until the ministry is satisfied that a comprehensive public information process has been established, and communication has started.

When a permit is received many owners establish an ongoing liaison committee to provide communication between the plant owners/operators and the community. Owners generally welcome such liaison committees because they provide effective communications and help maintain good relations.

Most developers, in my experience, don’t resent the permitting process. It is a necessary step in obtaining public and local acceptance of the proposed facility. It has been the way we have all operated for over 30 years.

I haven’t been a full time resident of Whistler for long, but I have been amazed by the apparent lack of process in the recent Flute land swap. Does the B.C. Department of the Environment not require any basic environmental studies for work done in the fragile alpine area? Or does the proponent not have to satisfy the ministry, through a screening process, that no such EIA is required? Is there no public information process, no requirement that Intrawest meet and listen to local concerns? Is there no permanent liaison group?

Seems amazing for the year 2002.

Rupert Merer

Whistler

 

Our Provincial Parks are the legacy of decades of effort by British Columbians working together to create a network of unspoiled natural areas. Our Park system is there to preserve natural values and ecosystems and provide us and our visitors with the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world in Super Natural B.C. It is a sustainable legacy which will become much more valuable and precious as the years go by. We are proud of and protective of this outstanding treasure which belongs to the citizens of British Columbia.

Now the assault on our parks has begun with corporatization of the Parks (www.bcbid.gov.bc.ca/data/itqs/48%5F052002.htm), and the upcoming reductions and eliminations of parks, beginning with the Lillooet/South Chilcotin area.

The B.C. government is also dramatically reducing public input into the land planning process. After the recent Garibaldi Park/Singing Pass land swap Whistler-Blackcomb officials remarked that this was done to correct a mapping error and as such required no consultation with citizens and stake holder groups. Whistler-Blackcomb decided in this case that consultation, or even timely releases of information are quite simply unnecessary.

Rather than working together to ensure that all interests are clearly understood and taken into account, this action signals a change, a new era where a corporation feels there is no need to take into account any needs other than its own and it's investors. Hopefully Whistler-Blackcomb recognizes its actions on this issue erodes the sense of trust and co-operation which this community is built on, it "changes the rules."

This trust might be restored through an open consultation process with stakeholders on the many issues affecting the Fitzsimmons Creek/Singing Pass area, from proposed ski lift development through power generation facilities. We encourage Whistler-Blackcomb to initiate this process quickly, and also to demonstrate its understanding that as our parks are already under threat from all sides, the need is urgent to work together in ensuring we pass on a legacy of a sound park system to future generations to steward and care for.

Eckhard Zeidler for

AWARE Wilderness Backyard Committee

 

So our mayor is "satisfied" with the massive security at the past weekend meeting. Depending on what numbers you believe, the so-called "protesters" were outnumbered by something like five to one by the media and 10 to one by the police, to say nothing of the choppers and police dogs.

Was this a rehearsal for a WEF meeting, and how about the Olympics? Multiply these numbers by a hundredfold and consider a budget of what, $500 million for security – or more? Taxpayers – that’s us – and it doesn't matter which arm of government pays, we are paying for it.

Do we need choppers going "whop, whop" overhead all day and police sniffer dogs checking our personals wherever we go? We’ve got enough dogs of our own!

Our mayor may be satisfied but I agree with Troy Assaly – we don't need it!

Clive V. Nylander

Whistler

 

Re: STOCAPs (Short Term Overnight Commercial Accommodation Properties)

A great deal of attention has been given to the issue of strata hotel taxation in recent weeks. The fact that this issue is still being publicly discussed reinforces the need for a permanent solution to the classification of commercial strata hotels. We would like to clarify some of the issues raised from the municipality’s perspective.

At the outset, it is important to distinguish between changes to the assessed value of existing properties and new construction added to the assessment roll each year. This has not been distinguished in some of the previous letters to the editor and substantially impacts the reader’s ability to draw an accurate conclusion. Without considering the impacts of new construction in the equation and the reclassification of some of the larger strata hotels, there can be a perceived shift of burden between one class and another that does not in fact exist.

Reference to the "class 6 group of properties being ‘hammered’ in 2002 by keeping the mil-rate difference between class 1 and class 6 the same, despite the very material shift in assessed values" is not correct. Both classes experienced an 11 per cent change in market value assessment, residential at 11.18 per cent and business/other at 11.06 per cent, as shown in Table 1 below:

Table 1. 2002 Assessment - Market Value Change

 

Class

2001 Assessment*

$

2002 Market

Increase $

Percentage Increase

1 — Residential

4,428,518,736

494,995,150

11.18%

6 — Business

740,096,156

81,858,100

11.06%

This means that if the same tax rate change is applied to the total market value assessment for both class 1 and class 6, the ratio will remain the same.

In setting the 2002 tax rates, council approved a 0 per cent change in property taxes levied for each class of property. Reclassifications distort the market assessment change in class 6 and were removed from the tax calculation to correctly reflect market assessed value changes in the underlying class 1 and class 6 pools. Since the market value assessment increased by approximately 11 per cent in both residential and business classes, this resulted in an 11 per cent decrease in both the class 1 and class 6 tax rates. This means that a property with an 11 per cent assessment increase, irrespective of its total value, will pay the same municipal taxes in 2002 as they did in 2001.

All properties whether they are class 1 or class 6 were treated the same. Individual class 6 properties did not see a shift in the tax burden. It is logical therefore that the tax rates for these two classes would continue to reflect the same ratio. New construction value is isolated and the same established tax rate is applied to generate new tax revenue to pay for increased municipal services, which the new construction requires.

Table 2 shows the tax rates for residential class 1 and business class 6 properties in 2001 and 2002 along with the corresponding ratios between the tax rates.

Table 2. Tax Rate and Ratio Comparison

Class

2001 Rates

2001 Ratios

2002 Rates

2002 Ratios

1- Residential

2.7067

1.00

2.4346

1.00

6 — Business

8.6763

3.21

7.8122

3.21

In prior years, increases in assessed values have varied widely between the two classes, resulting in ratio shifts despite similar tax policy treatment. For example, last year, the 2001 increase in assessed value for business properties on average was close to 0 per cent, whereas residential properties increased by approximately 20 per cent. To produce an average of 3.8 per cent in taxes equally to each class of property, the tax rate for the residential class had to be lowered while the tax rate for business class remained almost the same. Each class of property on average paid 3.8 per cent more for property taxes in 2001. New construction is considered separately, and is charged at the calculated tax rate. Reclassifications are considered separately so as not to distort rate setting for the affected classes.

Property values vary widely from one year to the next depending on market perception of value as well as the more tangible features of the property. Values for individual strata hotel units are no exception. The Resort Municipality of Whistler does not establish the assessed values upon which property taxes payable are based, or arrive at the classifications. These values are established independently on an annual basis by B.C. Assessment in accordance with provincial legislation.

In referring to the percentage of property taxes contributed compared to the percentage of overall assessed value, it must be remembered that hotels comprise the majority of the business class assessed value in Whistler. Being a resort community, Whistler is unique in this respect in comparison to other municipalities. The ratio of business class tax rates compared to residential is 3.21 to 1. This is why hotels contribute a larger proportion of total property tax than their percentage of total assessment roll value.

With all residential and business properties, those with a property assessment change of less than 11 per cent will pay less than the prior year in municipal taxes, while a property with an assessment change of greater than 11 per cent will pay more than the prior year.

Finally, this discussion would not be complete without referring to the losses sustained on municipal revenues due to the repeated strata hotel appeals and reclassifications. In 2001 alone, the municipality lost in the neighbourhood of $750,000 due to reclassification of the Westin Resort and Spa and the Holiday Inn from business class to residential class. Total tax revenue losses from reclassifications of strata hotel properties and classification appeals to date is now well in excess of $2 million. These revenues will never be recouped. The municipality absorbed these losses rather than passing them on to either residential or business owners. Similarly, revenue losses resulting from appeals receive the same treatment. They erode the municipality’s single largest source of revenue, impact the long-term financial sustainability of the community and reduce the ability of the municipality to respond to the basic civic service requirements demanded of a growing community.

Despite these losses, beginning in 1997 the Resort Municipality of Whistler has had to absorb the additional cost of paying for its police force for the first time (previously paid by senior governments) now at an annual cost of $2 million, weathered the loss of over $380,000 per year in provincial grants, provided for an expanded transit service which it must fund to the tune of $300,000 this year alone, and has provided expanded fire protection services.

The STOCAPs classification issues can be summarized as follows:

• Legislation governing the classification of strata hotel units was introduced in 1994 by the provincial government to provided a means for determining whether property was classified as class 1 residential or class 6 business.

• As a result of the legislation, a number of strata hotels moved from class 1 residential to class 6 business, while some have remained in class 1.

• The legislation unfortunately has resulted in similar properties being classified differently which has resulted in unfair and inequitable tax treatment between similar properties.

• Legislation guiding the classification of the strata hotels is under the purview of the provincial government. As such, the municipality does not control the legislation and does not have the ability to change the legislation.

• The municipality has lobbied for a solution that will provide fairness and equity towards like properties and stability.

The provincial government is aware of the issue. In 2001, a minor revision to the legislation moved some strata hotels, including the Westin Resort and Spa and the Holiday Inn, back into class 6 business in time for the 2002 tax roll. The Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management has committed to resolve the issue in time for the 2003 assessment roll. The municipality supports this initiative.

Whistler’s ongoing success and strength in the marketplace is attributable to many different factors, but without a doubt, this resort community requires a stable and consistent revenue stream to sustain the high quality of visitor experience and improve resident’s quality of life. To achieve this the municipality seeks tax equity among property owners, affordability for residents and businesses and consistent delivery of municipal services to the standard of a successful international resort.

Diana Waltman

Information Officer

Resort Municipality of Whistler