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Empty houses or resident housing?

If you are a financial manager or investor I need your help. I have a question. And if you are not a financial guru then please ask one of your friends who is.

There is an underlying assumption with some in Whistler that empty houses owned by second homeowners contribute to the entire community. Owners pay taxes and rarely use services is quite often the argument for the assumption. However what are the big empty houses in Whistler really worth to the community? What are the costs, including opportunity costs, vs. the benefits? Is it possible that using the same land for four townhouses housing 8-12 employee residents is more beneficial to Whistler from strictly an economic perspective? I really don’t know, but I would just like to offer up these thoughts to try and get an answer.

From the outset it is easy to think of a large house in Whistler being beneficial to the economy. During the building phase tremendous amounts of money flow into the community, and a tremendous amount of money gets spent in the community. It’s also crucial not to forget about the yearly taxes the community gets from the property as well as the spending during the limited weekends or weeks that it is inhabited.

On the other hand, consider the tremendous amount of money coming into the community to build four townhouses. Include the yearly taxes and the wages spent in Whistler by the 8-12 resident employees. Without the resident housing, these wages would otherwise be spent outside of Whistler. With 12 people working in Whistler at the average wage of let’s say $35,000/year that amounts to $420,000. We know that nobody saves money or leaves Whistler with any money so perhaps most of that gets spent here.

Now what is the difference between the cash flow for the big empty house vs. the four-plex resident house? Or perhaps put another way, how many days does an empty house have to be occupied (or money spent) to match the cash flowing in to the community by the 12 living in four resident employee townhouses?

I know that it is much more complicated than the scenario I’ve painted, yet I hope it is worth exploring. If there are any financial managers or hard core economists out there who are intrigued by this idea please take a moment and work it out. Don't forget the multiplier effect. You can get all the rough figures from the RMOW Planning Dept. I’d love to know if the assumption of greater economic benefits to the entire community from empty houses is fact or fiction when compared to the alternatives.

Dan Wilson

Whistler/Sweden

 

In a perfect world, Bob Eldridge (Assessing taxes, Pique letters Jan. 23) is quite right. But it ain't a perfect world and the assessors do not always get it quite right.

By law, they are required to assess at "actual value", i.e. 100 per cent of market value and sales determines market value. In practice, they usually aim at 90 per cent to 95 per cent, rather than 100 per cent, on the theory that assessments at 100 per cent or more will make people mad enough to appeal. As a simple example: if a house sells for $100 (add as many zeros as you wish), the assessor should assess at $90. Suppose two houses sell for $100 each and the assessor pegs the first at $50 and the second at $130; the assessor will argue that he has achieved his aim of an average assessment to sales ratio of 90 per cent. If you think that is fair and that those two owners will pay the same taxes, stop reading now.

I have analyzed the sales of houses (often referred to as "chalets") during the year 2003 in Whistler from Bayshores to Emerald Estates and compared the assessments, as published on the assessor's Web site, to the actual sales price, according to the Whistler Listing System. They range from a low of 46.9 per cent to a high of 122.8 per cent; in other words, the assessments in Whistler are almost exactly the same as my simple two-house example. Out of a total of 79 sales, the average assessment to sales ratio is 93.4 per cent and the assessor will declare he has achieved his aim. But with the range from 46.9 per cent to 122.8 per cent, the assessments can hardly be called fair and equitable.

On a closer look, out of the 79 sales, 59 are assessed lower than the sales price and 20 are assessed higher than the sales price. Of the 59, nine range between 46 per cent and 82 per cent, all high-end sales price. The average assessment to sales ratio of the 59 is 88.67 per cent, while the average of the 20 is 107.48 per cent. It is patently unfair to include the over-assessed houses, as demonstrated by the actual sales price, in the calculation of the average ratio.

To compound the inequality, the higher-end sales are the main beneficiaries of the lower assessments and Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates bear the brunt of assessments that are pegged higher than the actual sales price.

Since my letter of a couple of weeks ago, a caller wondered about grounds for appeal. Let me offer some free advice, which can be taken for what it is worth. An appeal to the "review process" is laid out on the back of the assessment notice and it costs nothing to appeal. You do not need any grounds for appeal, other than stating the assessment is too high. If you are the beneficiary of a low assessment, just thank your lucky stars and do nothing. If you appeal, you don't even have to appear at the hearing. If you have a location or feature that may possibly detract from a possible sales price, then you may want to make that clear at the hearing. If you are one of the 20 as mentioned above that are assessed higher than the sales price paid, that is persuasive evidence. Similarly, an appraisal, in the absence of a sale, that shows your house value lower than the assessment may be persuasive. Otherwise, you should do some homework and obtain comparative assessments to determine whether similar houses to yours in your area are assessed lower than yours.

In any event, you should contact the assessors as soon as possible, whether or not you appeal, and get them to justify their assessment of your house. Find out what sales they are using and what houses they are comparing with yours. Remember that the assessors do not like appeals and they will try to discourage you – some may threaten to raise your assessment, as suggested by Mr. Eldridge. That is objectionable extortion, known as "dirty pool", and any honourable assessor will not carry out that threat. Don't be discouraged.

The deadline to file your appeal is Saturday, Jan. 31 but according to the notes which accompany the assessment notice under "Please Note: Key Points", it is extended to Monday, Feb. 2, 2004.

Finally, it costs nothing to appeal – the more the merrier. Make them work for it!

Clive V. Nylander

Whistler

 

While the community of Whistler is making great strides in environmental awareness and sustainable thought, there are a number of areas of opportunity that I see could be improved upon:

1. Energy Conservation: How many stores in Whistler actually find that sales increase substantially when their doors are left open on frigid days? Even if this might be the case, surely the municipality can establish a bylaw to prohibit this trend in the interest of reducing our energy consumption.

2. Fossil Fuel Consumption: Whistler-Blackcomb has adopted the Natural Step framework to guide them in their management decisions, and yet they continue to flaunt inefficient vehicle use, by supplying all "higher-ups" with luxurious GMC SUVs. Imagine if Whistler-Blackcomb VPs all drove smaller hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight. Wouldn't that be a better example to set?

3. Transit: Although I'm aware that the RMOW and WAVE are undergoing a test project to promote transit use among staff by reducing bus fares, focus also needs to be put on potentially adding incentives (or disincentives) to promote carpooling to the day lots. If there's no cost associated with being a single occupant in a vehicle, then why spend any money to take the bus? What if WAVE and the RMOW began sponsoring "cool" athletes like Rob Boyd and Richie Schley to take the bus? This might encourage others to take public transit and perhaps change perceptions about the dependence we have on our cars.

4. Composting: Carney's, in conjunction with the SLRD and member municipalities, has embarked on an exciting (and risky) centralized composting project in Squamish. Following the lead of the Chateau Whistler, I hope the RMOW can spur other hotels and businesses in town to join in and contribute organic waste as feed for the facility, ensuring its success.

5. Waste Management: Why do households and businesses in the Sea to Sky corridor not recycle? Perhaps out of laziness or inconvenience, but whatever the reason, this simple process needs to be undertaken by all in order for us to reduce the burden on local landfills. I believe the solution for these folks is to create a further incentive to reduce waste: charge for garbage. Have both transfer stations in Whistler overseen by an attendant who would ensure that people pay $1 or $2 per small bag of garbage, with no charge for recyclables. Surely this would help improve the situation.

A final thought:

After hearing an incredible speaker last night talking about socially and environmentally responsible consumerism and investing, I realized that she (and many other environmental speakers that have been heard in Whistler) was likely speaking to the converted. The people that need to hear these speakers are the ones who leave store doors open in the winter, drive alone in SUVs, and throw their bottles, cans and papers in the trash. I would encourage anyone and everyone to come out and hear the next two speakers in the Sustainability Speaker Series on Feb. 18th and March 18th at the conference centre.

Let's see some more direct action towards the environment from the Whistler community!

Lance Nelson

Whistler

 

Re: Different Ways of Knowing, Pique Jan. 23

I fully agree with the statement, "It is high time to embrace our neighbours to the north and south, who were our predecessors as residents and visitors in the valley." However, I am not yet sure that building a cultural centre in Whistler is the best way to do this. I think that any cultural centre built should be put on the land of the First Nations groups involved. I agree that Whistler's built up tourism can serve as a catalyst to increasing the knowledge of the tourists who visit us, but that there could be a better way to link the tourists who visit Whistler and our neighbouring First Nations communities. I would think that a small cultural centre built in Whistler with tourist buses running interpretive tours to the neighbouring communities and their larger, more involved cultural centres would better benefit the people within those communities.

Having a cultural centre in Mount Currie serviced by buses from Whistler would mean more tourists spending dollars within the First Nations communities. It would also show the tourists more beautiful areas they may want to visit on their own in the future and draw them to accommodations within the community for those who do not wish to stay in Whistler but welcome a cultural holiday, and would give them a better insight into Native culture than a museum and a few First Nations employees could provide. The cultural centre could then serve as a starting point for other people setting up related cultural activities such as canoe trips or guided bush walks. The centre would likely benefit the neighbouring town of Pemberton by bringing tourists further north.

The same or similar situation could be set up in Squamish. Though the buses may not be needed as the tourists could be attracted on their way past after learning of the potential on their visit to the smaller cultural centre within Whistler. The two First Nations could work together to set up similar but different attractions to encourage people to visit both, with either two trips while on vacation in Whistler or attending one on their first visit and enjoying it so much that they are interested in seeing the other on their next trip.

I still believe that Whistler should play an integral part in a cultural centre here and should be a strong partner in the outlying cultural centres. We (as Whistlerites) attract the tourists, and we also have access to the money and the funding needed for such a project. We of course also have a stake in it with the Olympics, and with showing our visitors that we do have a long history and we do care for our neighbouring communities and those that were here before us. Having grown up in Whistler, it has always amazed me how easily we have all ignored our First Nations neighbours.

Now having said all of the above, I may have stuck my foot in my mouth. I have not been privy to any of the discussions that have taken place amongst the First Nations leaders and our municipality, and it may be that they considered similar options but still believed that the best option was to have the centre in Whistler. If that is the case, I will shut up and be happy with the result.

However, I also take some issue with the proposed design of the building as it was pictured in your magazine. Not only do I think the building is an eye-sore, which does not bother me much, but I see it takes up a large amount of ground that could easily be remedied by making the building a two storey building. We need to decrease our ecological footprint in Whistler by building more compact and this cultural centre does not do this. Also, the building could look a lot more "Native" in nature were it designed say after a long house with a peaked roof.

Most of my comments of course come too late to change anything, but after reading last week’s article I just had to say something. Though the next comment goes against everything I have said above, one of the most positive things about having the cultural centre in Whistler is that our neighbours will not have to deal with some of the negative aspects of inviting tourists into your town which I have experienced first hand.

Sara Jennings

Whistler

 

During our stay in Whistler Creekside last week we had our three-place trailer and two sleds stolen. We are just devastated as we have no insurance and are out about $20,000. We hope to work hard, replace our loss and someday return to Whistler, as we truly love it here!

We are certain our property is long gone. But, during our ordeal we found out some appalling information about this area. We found out that snowmobile theft has become a serious issue. It seems everyone we spoke to, law, plow drivers, retailers and locals, told us this is a huge problem in the area.

Well, if just one of these people had said to us, "be careful" we would have done 10 things different to prevent this. Although we did have a lock on our trailer it never slowed the thieves down. We only wish someone had given us a warning. We are not blind to the world, which is exactly why we had a lock, but in 15 years of sledding we have never known of anyone to be robbed in this manner. Apparently this sort of thing is becoming common in the area.

We have always felt safe staying in Whistler and we will in the future, but we will now take a few extra precautions. Were just asking you to somehow warn others.

Please, just mention our story so the next guy will have to chance to save his stuff, as we did not.

Kelli Motta

Seattle, Washington

 

During my Christmas visit to Whistler I had a bad experience turned to good.

While skiing, I took a spill over an embankment, landing hard on my back. My ribs took unkindly to the impact and immediately tightened into knots. Days later my entire torso was still in painful spasm to the point that I could hardly walk. A friend (a local) recommended inspection by the fine people at Peak Performance Physical Therapy.

I visited their clinic and was very impressed. It’s so clean. And the magazine collection is disproportionately post-millennium.

I hasten to add that the therapy was also noteworthy. Over several days three specialists employed technology, hands, elbows and humour, to ease the spasms (though I’m still a spaz), realign shifted ribs and relax seized vertebrae. Their knowledge and care salvaged my Whistler vacation. Four days after beginning treatment I was back on the mountain skiing under caution.

During my series of brief visits there were many other creaking tin men (and women) in various states of repair seeking the wizards’ magic. Everyone’s remedy seemed to involved a blend of professional skill, personal compassion and entertaining banter. I suspect some of their regular patients fake ailments just to hang about in the clinic’s comforting energy. If I were a local, I too might walk the fine line between chronic affliction and stalking.

I wouldn’t have found the care needed without local knowledge. Hopefully there’s a spot in your publication to express appreciation for my effective care and inform other visitors of the exceptional physio and massage therapy available at Peak Performance.

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Scott Graham

Mississauga, Ont.

 

The first annual Scotty Brown Memorial Golf Tournament was held on Sept. 26, 2003 at the Pemberton Valley Golf Course. Combined efforts from the tournament organizers, the personal and corporate generosity in the Whistler/Pemberton area, and the fun-loving nature of all those who participated, made the day an overwhelming success. The tournament was full with 144 people taking part, and over 200 showing up for the after-party at Scott’s home. Approximately $2,800 was raised for local charities.

This day was first made possible thanks to the Longhorn hockey team, who unanimously offered to change their fundraising golf tournament into the Scotty Brown Memorial. A better group of guys would truly be difficult to find. The task of organizing the day then fell to Derek Bell, Darrell Hannan, and Wes Pearson, who somehow managed to pull organizational skill and chaos into a seamless day enjoyed by all. A special thanks also goes to Dan Honeyball, Sara Campbell, Mike White (Pemberton Valley Golf Course), Pete and Pat, Erin and Chachi, Holly, Homey, and Alistor. Each of these people showed their love and respect for Scott by going above and beyond the call of duty, offering unique contributions to help make the day memorable.

Our deepest gratitude goes out to the following individuals and companies who offered exceedingly generous donations:

The Wildflower Restaurant at the Chateau Whistler, Nicklaus North Golf Club, Scott Hannan #22 of the San Jose Sharks, Whistler IGA, Nesters, Mongolie Grill, Cougar Mountain, Blackcomb Snowmobile, Wildwood Café, Meadow Park Recreation Centre, Whiski Jack Resort, Moe Joe’s, Maxximum, The Longhorn Saloon, The Armsterdam Pub, and Ty Hiebert.

We would also like to thank McCoo’s, The Keg, Dubh Linn Gate, Casa, Araxi, Dog-Legge, Tapley’s, Pemberton Market Place IGA, Caramba, Julie’s House of Esthetics, Canadian Snowmobile Adventure Company, Helly Hansen, Pharsyde, Bestsellers, The Wicked Wheel, and The Dave Murray Ski Camp.

Finally, an extra special thank you to all those who participated in the tournament. The year 2003 was a year of heartache and tragic loss for many. It is a tribute to how valuable and missed these people are in our lives that we continue to come together and celebrate their memory. As Scott’s sister, I burst with pride and gratitude when I recall the outpouring of love and support offered by his friends, hockey team, and the community he had come to love so much. Hope to see you all next year.

Siri Brown

Pemberton

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