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Olympic costs questioned in light of possible tax increases

Municipality spending money to maximize 2010 opportunities



Next year’s potential property tax increases have many taxpayers like Brian Buchholz thinking about just how much the 2010 Games are costing Whistler.

“I think most people agree that it’s this once in a lifetime chance so let’s exploit it to its maximum, but at what cost?” asked Buchholz.

“We deserve to have absolute clarity.

“I love the Olympics and I’m proud they’re coming here. That doesn’t mean I have to, or anybody should, turn a blind or lazy eye for the accounting of it.”

But just how much exactly are the 2010 Games costing Whistler?

That’s a question Buchholz has asked of council repeatedly, to no avail.

Whistler is taking a big picture look — it’s not counting the paper clips.

“It’s not how much the Games are costing,” explained Mayor Ken Melamed, after pausing to consider the question. “It’s about leveraging an opportunity.”

But even the mayor was hard pressed this week not to acknowledge the connection between possible rising property taxes and the looming spectre of hosting the largest event in Whistler’s history. There’s no denying that the municipality is heading into the second year of one of the busiest capital spending programs the resort has ever seen and that taking advantages of all those Olympic opportunities and readying the resort for the Games is all costing money.

“I think there’s a connection,” admitted the mayor. “I think it’d be hard to argue that there wasn’t.”

This, despite repeated promises that the Games would not cost Whistler taxpayers money. But was that the promise?

The mayor was quick to stress that the council of the day, of which he was a part, never made a promise not to raise taxes to pay for the Games. Rather, in its guiding principles council said it would ensure the financial exposure of the Resort Municipality of Whistler is limited and that it would operate the Games within a balanced budget.

“I think we knew when we went into it that there would be Olympic costs,” said Melamed. “What we wanted to reassure the community was that we would try and be as fiscally responsible as we could given the commitment to host the Games. Remember — this was a community decision. The community told council ‘yes we want to do this.’ Council said ‘we’re going to do it and promise to manage the costs’, remembering that nobody in Canada will forget anytime soon — for a couple of generations — what happened in Montreal.”

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