By Alison Taylor
Whistler’s new financial tools will not be used to fund the 2010 Olympics, rather the long-term economic success of the resort.
That caveat was part of the ground-breaking deal Mayor Ken Melamed signed Friday in Vancouver with Community Services Minister Ida Chong and local MLA Joan McIntyre.
And with roughly $7 million extra flowing from the province into municipal coffers annually, or $35 million in the next five years, Whistler was amenable to that level of oversight.
“(The province) wanted us to actually talk about where we thought we might spend the money so that they could measure the results and the impacts of the investment,” explained the mayor.
The resort’s Five Year Financial Plan will now be amended to reflect that input from the province.
Roughly $13 million in the next five years will go into resort programming, such as training for village host volunteers and infrastructure to develop and attract festivals and events.
Roughly $22 million will go into resort infrastructure, such as a new gymnastics facility, enhanced community squares, and additions to the Valley Trail.
The financial tools are not new taxes. Of the 10 per cent hotel tax collected on every hotel room in the resort, Whistler used to get back two per cent and the remaining eight per cent went to provincial coffers.
The new financial tools give Whistler an additional four per cent of the hotel tax.
Diane Mombourquette, the municipality’s general manager of economic viability, explained the restrictions on the four per cent hotel tax.
“It was designed to ensure reinvestment in the infrastructure of resorts and in long term programs to make them successful.”
For example, the 2010 Games Reserve will no longer be a line item under the 4 per cent hotel tax revenues in the budget. That reserve funds the 2010 Games Office, the municipal department responsible for the execution of the Games.
Because that office is part of the day to day operations of the municipality, it will be funded from a source other than the financial tools.
Similarly, the Affordability Reserve, which is slated to get $2 million a year from the financial tools and will fund the Olympic and Paralympic athletes’ village to the tune of $8 million, will be renamed the Employee Housing and Infrastructure Development Reserve.
“It’s not related to 2010 at all,” said MLA Joan McIntyre, who played a critical role in securing the tools.
“We have this goal of doubling tourism revenues by 2015… making sure that these resorts have the ability from a very small tax base to be able to build this extra infrastructure for tourism.”
Whistler is the first resort to sign the agreement. It is one of the legacies negotiated through hosting the 2010 Games.
In order to secure the tools, Whistler worked with other resorts, through the Resort Community Collaborative, and negotiated a deal that could benefit them all.
Twelve other resorts are eligible for a portion of the financial tools, including Fernie, Golden, Tofino, Rossland and Revelstoke.
Mayor Melamed said he was thrilled to have the deal, which was first inked in May 2006, finalized, and now entrenched in law. He praised the province for its innovative and ground-breaking agreement, which is called the Resort Municipality Revenue Sharing Program.
In addition to thanking MLA McIntyre, Melamed also praised Whistler’s Jim Godfrey, executive director for the 2010 Games, for his work in securing the tools.