It was the first Union of B.C. Municipalities annual general meeting since the province replaced the Municipal Act with the Community Charter, and likely the last UBCM meeting before the next provincial election.
As a result it was a politically charged meeting, with municipalities flexing the new muscles they have been given and the province announcing new funding for tourism, while pointing to the economic successes of its policies. It all came down to money, with municipalities asking for a bigger piece of the pie, and the premier making an argument for getting the provinces financial house in order first, while increasing money for northern development and tourism.
"When the Charter came down, they (the provincial government) said were going to give you more responsibilities, but were going to give you the tools, the financial tools to make it happen. Well they did a good job downloading responsibilities but didnt quite follow up with the financial part," said Whistler Mayor Hugh OReilly, who attended last months UBCM along with several members of council.
"They dont want to give up a nickel. And I know (the provincial government) is stuck on the other end, trying to balance their own budgets. They dont have the money to give it away to the municipalities.
"Weve seen three or four years of belt tightening, and now the budget is balanced and were going to see a surplus, were going to see better times. I think that was a strategy they had, that it was going to be tough for a couple of years, but to use the time to get things going their way and then move ahead. Its good news because were finally seeing some money but its interesting to see how the electorate perceives it in an election year."
OReilly says other communities at the UBCM and FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) are following in Whistlers footsteps this year by asking the province and the federal government for new financial tools to help cover their rising costs, either through taxes or other economic initiatives.
Resort communities have higher costs due to the number of visitors using public services, says OReilly. Despite the amount of revenue it generates for the province, Whistlers main source of income to pay for those services is property taxes, although new private-public partnerships, permits, fees, development cost charges, fines and a percentage of the hotel room tax do make a contribution to municipal coffers.
"Its really interesting, but the New Deal, as they (the federal government) are calling it, is really very similar to some of the arguments weve made for funding tools that weve been making to the provincial government, that are specific to resort communities. Its interesting to see it taken up by other communities across Canada that are just traditional communities as well . Were delivering so much service we need to partake in some of the other economic activities going on in our jurisdictions," said OReilly.