The Resort Municipality of Whistler has decided it won't retroactively charge water fees to pool properties after forgetting to bill some for more than 20 years.
Pique Newsmagazine was contacted last week by the Mountainside Lodge after the lodge was notified that it would be getting a bill for approximately $12,000 in August to pay water user fees for the previous two years.
The lodge had already received an invoice for $3,717 for water use for the year to date.
Pique then contacted the municipality and found that it had forgotten to bill properties with pools for their water use for over two decades - forgoing revenues of up to $50,000 a year. The Mountainside Lodge, for example, hadn't been billed for the use of water in its pool since it was built 28 years ago.
Now, the municipality has decided not to bill for previous years and is issuing its invoices "prospectively" rather than "retroactively."
Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability for the municipality, said in an interview that it's the finance department's policy to not bill for more than two years retroactively, correcting a passage in last week's story that stated it's common practice for the department to backdate its bills for two years.
In this case, however, the municipality will only be billing taxpayers with pools from this year onward.
Speaking specifically about the Mountainside Lodge, she said they're "not going to get a bill in August for the past two years."
"The staff here know that our policy is that we are not going to bill more than two years retroactively," she said. "So they told them, we're billing you for this, we won't go any farther back than two years. But (now) we've made the decision we're not going back retroactively."
Landry went on to say that there are 64 properties that have not been billed for water since their pools were built - almost double the highest estimate that Environmental Services Manager Brian Barnett gave Pique last week.
Landry said 33 properties have been receiving and paying their water bills, but she wouldn't specify which were paying and which weren't.
"I don't think I need to speak to individual taxpayers' bills," she said. "They're generally residences with pools or hotels with pools, or spas with pools."
The news was a welcome development for Mark Tremblett, general manager of the Mountainside Lodge.
"I think it's tough enough right now to try and fill a hotel with the economy being the way it is," he said. "To get hit with an unexpected bill like that is a bit tough to swallow. To know that they're only going to bill us moving forward is much better."
Though he was happy his hotel wouldn't be billed for the previous two years, Tremblett nevertheless thinks the water bill invoices were just another way for the municipality to recoup money, along with the recent decision to institute pay parking at the Telus Conference Centre parking lot.
"It has to be, why else would this all of a sudden come up?" he asked. "I truly believe they've gone through whatever bylaws they can find and (are) making sure that they're billing for everything they're supposed to be."
Brian Barnett denied that in an interview for last week's story.
"It has nothing to do with what you've just described," he said. "The water utility is a self-funded utility so general taxes for parking and things like that don't either go in or go out of the water utility. There's separate water utility rates that are established and those rates are only used for water purposes."