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RCMP strategic plan presented

Council briefs: provincial tax changes explained; illegal space home hit with note against title

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Like almost everyone else in Whistler, local police officers are struggling to find stable housing.

The local RCMP detachment has seen a high turnover of officers in the past year, with more projected to leave this spring, said Inspector Kara Triance, officer in charge for the Sea to Sky RCMP Detachment, in presenting the detachment's annual strategic plan to council on July 10.

"We do still struggle to retain employees and attract employees here to Whistler that are seasoned and experienced, and that is primarily because of housing—the housing cost for a police officer is astronomical in terms of wage parity, and so they are choosing other locations," Triance said.

"We are doing everything we can to make a great detachment, so we are putting on lots of training, supporting our young police officers who are coming here straight from depot, and doing what we can to make it a really positive environment for them."

Staffing struggles aside, it was another successful year for the Whistler RCMP, including in the areas of reducing domestic-related violence, road safety, vulnerable persons and crime reduction.

Last year's successful "bait bike" program is back (after five "prolific offenders" were nabbed using the program last year), and the local detachment has also had recent successes on property crime and fraud files, Triance said.

"There were thefts of wallets within the village that resulted in fraud files from there and significant amount of loss to the individuals involved, and we arrested three individuals in one incident and one person in the other," she said.

"Those are suspects that are targeting Whistler, that do not live in the community, they've come up from Vancouver, (they) were arrested working as a team, definitely substance abuse has been an issue for those people that were arrested preying on the tourists of Whistler, so really happy to get those four individuals in custody."

The RCMP had 150 high-risk files last year in the categories of intimate partner violence, mental health, sexual assault and missing persons. Reducing that number will be an area of focus moving forward.

The local detachment has also advanced a business case asking for an additional officer for next year, which Triance said she would deploy to a domestic violence position locally.

The RCMP is also keeping on top of the opioid epidemic through its working group on fentanyl.

"In Whistler we haven't seen the same proliferation that they have seen in the Lower Mainland with fentanyl. Cocaine continues to be the drug that we seize the most up here in Whistler," Triance said.

"And so we do keep (fentanyl) on our radar because we need to consider this, but it hasn't been as prolific as we have seen in other communities, so we're grateful for that."

PROVINCIAL TAX CHANGES OUTLINED FOR COUNCIL

Rising school taxes and other changes at the provincial level will soon start to impact the bottom line of Whistler homeowners.

In a presentation to council on July 10, acting director of finance Maureen Peatfield outlined some of the changes, including increases in the school tax for 2018 and higher provincial taxation in 2019 due to the new Employer Health Tax.

In April, the RMOW received the school tax rate for the Sea to Sky school district (a 10.97-per-cent increase to all properties and a 14.69 per-cent increase to the residential taxpayers in the municipality).

"On May 4 we received an addendum reducing the school tax rate, resulting in a 7.95 per cent overall increase and a 10.35 per cent increase to the residential taxes," Peatfield explained.

"The reason for the difference between the total and the residential is the Class 2 utility rates declined by 3.22 per cent, and the rates for Class 5 industrial properties declined by 13.9 per cent."

According to the province, the goal is to decrease the school tax rate as properties appreciate, so that the provincial revenue per home only increases by the B.C. Consumer Price Index rate of inflation. Last year the annual rate of inflation was 2.4 per cent.

But with residential properties in Whistler experiencing an average 21-per-cent increase in property values, the result in most cases has been higher school taxes.

"I did discuss the issue with an analyst from the property taxation branch. They indicated that there is an overall tax increase, however, it's not evenly distributed across the province," Peatfield said.

Over the past decade, average property values have increased faster in Metro Vancouver than in other parts of the province, resulting in a high school tax burden for that area.

"In 2018, other areas of British Columbia are now seeing faster property appreciation than Metro Vancouver, and as a result there's been a shift in the property tax burden to school districts outside of Metro Vancouver," Peatfield said.

"So in summary, there has been a shift in the school tax burden and the Sea to Sky School District is paying proportionally more in 2018. It appears the Lower Mainland is paying proportionately less, and the shift in school tax rates do not appear to achieve the provincially stated mandate that the average provincial revenue per home only increase by B.C. CPI rate of inflation."

Starting in 2019, the province is also introducing an additional school tax that applies to most high-valued properties in the province.

The new tax will result in a 0.2 per cent increase on the residential portion of a home assessed between $3 million and $4 million, and 0.4 per cent on the residential portion assessed over $4 million.

"Based on 2018 property values, this will impact 712 Class 1 residential properties in Whistler ... and will result in an additional $3.45 million in school taxes," Peatfield said.

There's also the new Employer Health Tax to factor in, which will result in about $506,000 in increased costs for the RMOW next year.

The information report was brought to council to answer some of the questions being posed by homeowners and by other municipalities, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"Of course I understand that with the expansion of programs you obviously have to pay for them somehow, and to ask wealthy property owners to share more of the burden may be a fair way to go, but then on the other hand, it can have a fairly significant negative consequences as well," she said of the changes.

"When you're creating a new tax or when you're increasing school taxes, for example, by multiple percentage points, that's really difficult for homeowners to bear, because of course, when you're doing your home budget, you plan for property tax increases of a modest amount, but to go to, for example, a 14-per-cent increase, nobody really plans for that, and it can be a very negative burden."

NOTE AGAINST TITLE PLACED ON HOME WITH ILLEGAL SPACES

While a show cause hearing on June 19 in relation to a home with illegal spaces led to a deferred decision (see Pique, June 28), at its July 10 meeting council voted quickly and unanimously to register a notice on title of the home.

In late 2016, the home on Gondola Way in Creekside was found to contain 3,000 square feet of extra basement space not included in the approved building plans.

The extra space was located behind a hidden access panel.

"From my perspective, there was clear evidence of a failure to comply with building regulations, and so there really was no choice but to vote in favour of the recommendation, which was to register the notice on title," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said.

By doing so, the municipality will impede the homeowner's ability to obtain a mortgage or insurance on the property.

"It is a pretty drastic step to register this kind of notification on title to somebody's property, but we simply couldn't turn a blind eye to it," the mayor said. "(As for) if there are other instances of similar actions being taken out in the community ... we work on a complaints basis, so we don't know of any others at this point."

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