For the first time in four years residential property taxes are going up, but the 1.6 per cent hike included in the 1998 municipal budget adopted by council this week is targeted for specific purposes. One per cent of the increase will be used to help offset the cost of the local RCMP detachment, a cost assumed by the municipality last year when Whistler’s population officially exceeded 5,000. The .6 per cent is being allocated for the municipality’s long-term capital program. A detailed long-term financial plan will be presented in the next couple of months. The 1.6 per cent tax increase is based on the increase in property assessments this year, which averaged about 22 per cent for residential properties. If a property’s assessment increased more than 22 per cent taxes on that property will increase more than 1.6 per cent. For example, a home assessed at $309,407 in 1997 would now be valued at $375,991, based on the average increase in assessment. Municipal taxes in this case would increase $17.98, from $1,124.17 in 1997 to $1,142.15 this year. Taxes for other classes of property also increase by 1.6 per cent, based on the average increase in assessment for each class. Water and sewer parcel taxes are up $4 and the two utilities user taxes have each increased by $1.87 — a 1.1 per cent increase for each of the four taxes. The solid waste and recycling fee goes up by $8 to $120. The 1.6 per cent increase in municipal property taxes is in contrast to a 13 per cent increase in school taxes, which is collected by the municipality and which taxpayers will find included on their tax notices. That’s the bad news. The good news is what the municipality plans to accomplish. The 1998 operating budget ($23,418,376) is targeting a number of "service level enhancements" including: o introduction of a municipal communication/information office ($35,000) o funds for the public library’s transition to a municipal library in 1999 ($55,000 through grants in aid) o a review of alternative financial tools available to the municipality ($15,000) o development of an environmental strategy and a program to identify and protect environmentally sensitive areas o funding for two additional RCMP officers, one dedicated to the community policing program and one to traffic control ($52,564) o staff resources for planning and processing of a second elementary school site and daycare site o staff resources to review goals and objectives for the development of arts and cultural opportunities o completition of the comprehensive transportation study ($141,644) o funds to support Whistler Housing Authority resident housing projects ($1.8 million) o creation of a financial investment/analyst position ($30,504) o expanded flood protection works ($20,000) o development of an employee assistance program ($15,000) and an employee recognition program ($5,000) As well, the Whistler 2002 strategic planning initiative will be completed this year and a multi-year business plan which will guide the allocation of municipal human and fiscal resources will be completed. The general capital budget for 1998 (excluding sewer, water and solid waste funds) is $11,281,979. This includes carry-forwards of nearly $5 million. Highlights of the general capital budget include: o completion of the spectator area at Spruce Grove Park and the former KOA building ($960,000) o development of a master plan for the municipally-owned Lots 1 and 9 in Village North that will define the various elements, including the library ($100,000) o funds for the initial design concept for summer theatre facilities ($30,000) o funding for the next phase of Village North Park ($1,096,000) o $200,000 is provided to start the process of replacing the Parkland Acquisition/Reserve Fund o washrooms for Rainbow Beach, Meadow Park and Lost Lake ($715,000) o completion of the Valley Trail between Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates ($466,541) o hardware and software upgrades, voice messaging and completition of the municipal web page o funding for reconstruction of Lake Placid Road ($1,923,807), subject to $1 million infrastructure grant from senior governments o bear proof garbage containers for the village o doubling of funds (to $500,000) for the annual road reconstruction program o replacement of No. 3 firehall at Whistler Creek ($350,000) o municipal hall renovations ($241,200) Highlights of the other capital budgets include $800,000 for expansion of the landfill (solid waste fund), $1,286,000 for completion of the north-east sector lift station (sewer fund), and $500,000 for the Alpine collector (water fund). One of the biggest funds in question in recent years has been the employee housing fund, which totalled more than $6 million last year. This year’s budget takes $1.8 million from the fund for property acquisitions, construction of the Lot 78 project in Nordic and operations of the Whistler Housing Authority. Additional funding from Works and Service charges this year is expected to bring $444,000 in revenue, which will provide a year end balance of $4,578,000 in the employee housing fund.