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Municipal reserves used to weather slump

More resort grant money and hotel tax spent than collected in 2011



The municipality is spending $10 million in resort grant money - millions more than it has been given by the province this year.

The $2.5 million in excess spending is coming out of the municipality's rainy-day grant reserves fund.

The province granted Whistler $7.5 million through the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) for 2011. Whistler has divvied up more than $10 million for various projects this year.

More than six million dollars of that, for example, will go towards Whistler Olympic Plaza and the programming of that plaza in festivals, events and animation.

"The province wants to see demonstrated results on all of these things," explained Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability.

The RMI is relatively new grant money to Whistler after the municipality, in partnership with other resorts, lobbied the provincial government for a bigger share of the hotel tax. Now the money comes as a grant, with the province getting approval on how the funds are spent.

In future local hotels and Tourism Whistler will add their two cents on how the municipality spends that money.

Council decided last week that there will be a structured consultation process with the Hotel Association of Whistler and Tourism Whistler.

"Because the RMI is intended to be invested into tourism programming and infrastructure, it's important that we work in partnership with the RMOW, Tourism Whistler, and our membership to ensure that we align our efforts and maximize our investment and promotion of that investment," said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher. "So I think it's a positive thing."

When asked why the hotel association should be a part of how the municipality divvies up its grant money, the interim chair of the association Stephen Webb said: "Because of the desire to see that it's going to attract greater volumes of business to the resort."

Just as it is spending more RMI money this year, Whistler is also dipping into hotel tax reserves.

The municipality is spending almost $4.5 million in hotel tax money, now known as the two per cent Additional Hotel Room Tax (AHRT). It is getting less than $3.3 million from the province this year.

The extra money to pay for the different projects from both funding sources is coming from reserves.

"These funds should not be growing, growing, growing in a reserve for evermore," explained Landry. "They're supposed to be spent on tourism related projects and programs and that's what we're doing."

She explained that the reserve is being used up during the economic slump.

"Reserves can also be used to deal with peaks and valleys in the revenues and right now we're dealing with a valley," she said.

For years, the two per cent reserve was growing as a savings account to help pay for the 2010 Olympic Games.

"It makes sense that we carry on with our programs to support tourism, especially in a situation like this," said Landry.

Some of the money is going to capitalize on the Games such as the $96,000 for Games Art Legacy and the $1 million for Tourism Development.

Landry added: "We can afford all of these things that we're doing."




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