Whistler council has a number of significant initiatives planned for 2002, but because of the economic uncertainty still hasnt decided what the property tax rate for the year will be.
Details of this years initiatives and capital projects were outlined in the five year financial plan adopted by council Monday, but a note of caution runs through the document.
"September 11, 2001 has impacted the tourism industry world wide. The impact on Whistler is still emerging. As a result, a cautious and somewhat conservative approach has been taken in preparing this years Financial Plan," authors of the 118-page report write.
Property taxes account for 67 per cent of municipal revenues, or nearly $20 million of the $29.67 million in revenues budgeted for the municipalitys general fund. But " in consideration of the unknown economic conditions that we face and continued uncertainty with respect to the Class1/6 (tax classification) issue," no recommendation on a property tax rate has been made. Municipal staff will monitor the economic situation and provide a recommendation prior to May, when the property tax rate is officially set and adopted with tax rate bylaws.
Municipal council, at a December meeting, announced it would not set property tax rates before it had to, in order to better assess the financial climate. As an example of the economic uncertainty, prior to Sept. 11 Tourism Whistler was providing five-year projections on hotel room occupancies. Now, Tourism Whistler is only projecting six months ahead.
For purposes of the five year financial plan, a 0 per cent tax rate adjustment was used. However, with no increase in the tax rate the municipality will not meet its targets for contributions to capital reserves.
The municipality attempts to contribute 20 per cent of property tax revenue to capital projects or reserve funds for capital projects annually.
This is the first time in five years property taxes have not increased. Last year there was a 3.8 per cent increase. The year before it was 2.1 per cent.
The Annual Adjustment Formula has been set at -1 per cent, meaning all departments have been asked to reduce their operating budgets by 1 per cent. Last years AAF was 3.65 per cent.
Fees and charges have increased by 1.8 per cent, which was the rate of inflation as measured from August 2000 to August 2001. However, the economys nose dive in since August has since lowered the inflation rate. As measured from November 2000 to November 2001 it was only .3 per cent.
The major strategic initiatives identified for 2002 are to support the 2010 Olympic bid, implementation of the Natural Step program, complete the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, and assess alternative organization strategies/structure.
The five year financial plan outlines roles for each division of the municipality council, administration, human resources, corporate services, community services, engineering and public works, planning and development services with regard to the major initiatives. Among the goals for 2002 that relate to the Olympic bid are, undertaking a municipal boundary expansion, developing an Olympic village and land bank concept for resident housing, and reviewing Lots 1 and 9 as a venue for the Paralympics.
Part of the adoption of the Natural Step includes the creation of a Whistler Centre for Sustainability. Other initiatives for 2002 include: implementing a comprehensive e-commerce municipal Web site, development of an affordability strategy for locals and an affordability strategy for small business, and reviewing the equity of provincial school tax legislation for Whistler taxpayers. As well, a plainclothes RCMP officer will be hired this year, a deputy conservation officer position will be created, and the first phase of a water metering program will be implemented. The long-awaited upgrade of Lake Placid Road is also supposed to be done this year.
Overall, this years municipal budget is down slightly from last years. The 2001 budget projected total revenues of just over $44 million, while the 2002 budget projects revenues of $42.333 million. The general fund and solid waste fund are both expected to have slightly lower revenues than last year, while the transit, water and sewer funds are each expected to exceed last years revenues.
Total property tax revenues for 2002 are projected at $19.9 million. Thats up slightly from projections last year, when property tax revenues for 2002 were projected to be $19.5 million.
The five year financial plan will be available on the municipalitys Web site (www.whistler.com/rmow), at the library and for sale at municipal hall.