I would like to compliment everyone at municipal hall who contributed to the Five Year Financial Plan. This is the first year that I have had some concerns about financial decisions and the future directions of the municipality, and I am very impressed.
The Five Year Plan is an excellent blueprint which clearly defines Whistler’s financial system, the budget process, factors affecting the budget, the strategic business plan, quarterly action plans and of course the revenues and expenditures.
This document lays out the priorities, timetables and budgets for all the major municipal departments through to 2006. This informs the community, and establishes clear accountability. Anyone who has not taken the opportunity to read through this should certainly do so.
The open house prior to the last council meeting was also very helpful. There were a few of us who arrived at 5:30 with our financial plans in hand looking for some answers. All the key staff were there armed with answers; and watching the interaction in the room, coupled with the fact that there was only one question asked at the public question period certainly left me with the impression that the homework had been done and the questions satisfied.
Although my questions were answered, I would like to point out some flags that were waving at me from the plan.
1. The provincial government has not been forthcoming about the municipality accessing other sources of revenue, so we must be careful not to place too much reliance on this potential.
2. Hotel tax revenues are normally based on projections provided by Tourism Whistler; however they were "unavailable" this year, yet the budget model shows an increase of 2.5 per cent each year until 2008. I would think someone might want to actually get this year’s numbers and then re-asses whether the budget should show an increase.
3. "The potential impact on property tax revenues for Whistler remains an issue". "Tax revenues have already been eroded by several hundred thousand dollars for 2004 and if a decision were to be made to move all, or a significant number of Class 6 properties to Class 1, it would result in a loss of 20 percent of current property tax revenues". Property tax revenues according to the plan are $23.5 million; this translates into a potential $4.7 million lose of revenues (ouch!). Let’s keep in mind "we must live within our means" (page 3.8).
4. According to the Plan, the standard budget cycle as described suggests that public consultation takes place in December. Considering this is happening five months later than suggested in the standard cycle, and that other initiatives such as the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan and the Governance Review also suffer from timeline performance; this is an area that could be improved.