Opinion » Editorial

Line by line, it all adds up



Looks like property taxes are heading up 1.9 per cent if the proposed budget is accepted in the coming weeks — that's just below the rate of inflation.

When the increase was revealed at this week's open house, there were no gasps or outcries amongst the scores gathered to learn about the 182 projects on the books at a cost of about $35 million.

For the most part, the robust crowd listened to the case for the modest increase put forward by municipal staff and council while waiting to have their say at the end of the Feb. 28 meeting. The sewer parcel tax is also proposed to go up one per cent while water taxes will see no change.

This was the opportunity for residents to make sure they were heard on issues that mattered to them — funding for turf fields, how council is planning for growth, managing and implementing climate-change plans, helping residents with housing horror stories and why logging of old-growth forest in our community forest was going ahead, to name a few.

Said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden on the logging issue: "It's a frustrating file. It's complicated. We have made some inroads but there is still more work to do and logging starts next week."

Any tax increase is unwelcome in these trying times — times when most people are getting, at best, cost-of-living wage increases. There just doesn't seem to be a way to get ahead.

But some perspective is needed as we head into this budgeting season.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has recently released its municipal spending report for 2016, which shows that inflation-adjusted municipal operating spending increased by 48 per cent from 2004 to 2014, compared to a population growth of 12 per cent. 

"Only 5 out of the 152 municipalities (3 per cent) examined in BC kept operating spending in line with inflation and population growth over the past decade," states the report.

To be transparent, Whistler does get roasted in the report, but the stats are somewhat misleading as the spending done in the resort is really a reflection of the needs of the 3 million annual visitors who come here, as well as the 11,854 people who call the valley home.

And Whistler's population is booming — the latest Statistics Canada census report shows a 20.7-per-cent increase from six years ago, when the resort's population hovered just below 10,000. Compared to towns of similar size, with populations between 9,000 and 12,000, Whistler ranked as the fastest-growing community in B.C., and No. 4 in all of Canada.

Don't forget that close to 40 per cent of the taxes you pay on your bill are not under the control of the municipality — school taxes and so on.

The municipality's total budget is $82.5 million this year, of which about $37.1 million will come from residential property tax. (The 2016 total budget was $73,491,994 with $22,081,148 coming from residential property.)

That is a significant amount of money, and considering a great deal of it is spent making sure life here in Whistler is good, every citizen should pay attention to how it is divvied up.

Whistler also gets money from the provincial and federal governments, though more is always welcome — and perhaps deserved, considering the resort returns $1.37 million in taxes a day to all levels of government.

According to budget open house documents, provincial Resort Municipality Initiative spending will cover Spearhead Huts funding, upgrades and the operation of the skating rink at Olympic Plaza, a portion of the Gateway Loop upgrades, conference centre upgrades, Village Square and mall rejuvenation, Cultural Connector development and the ongoing alpine trail program for a total of $6,102,606 (some projects reach out to 2021).

Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) will go to catalyzing incremental learning and education opportunities, large group conference growth, conference centre portal reconstruction, village enhancements, Valley Trail reconstruction, the recreational trail program and park operations for a total of $3,193,100 (some projects reach out to 2021).

There are many items listed in the budget. A few that caught my eye were: the relocation of the Cenotaph ($40,000); the $100,000 for the Audain Gallery; $95,000 for the Mayor's Housing Task Force; $3,000 for the chain of office for our coat of arms; $29,000 each year to 2021 to fight invasive species; up to $970,000 each year to 2021 to combat wildfire risk; $35,000 for collective bargaining for CUPE Local 402 (the CUPE agreement expired Dec. 31, 2015); $15,000 for a First Nations Cultural Liaison officer; two new parking meters for $9,492; $100,000 for illegal nightly rental enforcement; and, of course, the almost $4 million for artificial turf playing fields.

Council has to walk a fine line between looking to protect the future of the resort through reinvestment in crucial infrastructure, such as our water systems, and answering to taxpayers about spending priorities.

But local government does listen — one only need look at the 180-degree reversal on the decision to move the Cenotaph to see that voters can influence elected officials, sometimes.

So speak up on the budget. You can reach municipal staff and council at budget@whistler.ca.


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