Homeowners who make up a vast majority of Whistler's tax base are growing agitated over the rising costs of living here, a realtor told Pique last week.
Pat Kelly, owner of the Whistler Real Estate Company, said in a wide-ranging interview that second homeowners, who according to him own 75 per cent of the properties here, are becoming "very concerned" about some of the policies being championed at the Resort Municipality of Whistler.
"We're doing a big homeowner study right now, second homeowners, they're quite concerned about the fact there doesn't seem to be an understanding at the RMOW of the realities of the world right now," he said. "Everybody's cutting back and they're not. We get that all the time, what are they doing over there, why do they need all the managers, why do they need all these things.
"Despite the fact they love Whistler, they are passionate about their desire to make it better than it is. They're certainly concerned about overhead and cost. That will be something that will continue to be questioned by the ownership group here. There will have to be some rationalization for why taxes are where they're at."
Kelly isn't alone in his claims. Dave Brown, a realtor with RE/MAX said in an interview that rising costs at the municipal level were a prime topic of conversation at Christmas and New Year's gatherings.
"It seems our property taxes are increasing each year and it's tough economic times for everybody," he said. "These added costs, especially for second homeowners, it's more than some of them are feeling comfortable with bearing."
The concerns arise as similar complaints from locals have flooded consultative workshops towards the 2011 municipal budget. At a workshop in mid-December over 100 people showed up to register their anger at costs rising overall, but wages for high-level employees were a prime focus.
The workshop was held shortly before council began reviewing its budget at a meeting on Dec. 21, which saw them approve a recommendation that this year's tax increase be capped at four per cent.
The four per cent increase means that residential property tax rate will go from $2.3482 to $2.4421 per $1,000 of assessed value. The hit for businesses is harder: business property tax rates will go from $8.085 to $8.4084 per $1,000 of assessed value.
That means for a townhome valued at $800,000, the annual property tax bill goes from $1,878.56 to $1,953.68. For a commercial property valued at $300,000, the annual property tax bill goes from $2,425.50 to $2,522.52.
Wages for municipal managers and staff have risen 13.5 per cent since 2007 and are slated for a four per cent increase this year. Salaries have risen in each of those years at a rate of anywhere between three and four per cent.
The increases have meant that salaries for upper-level management now take up 68.5 per cent of the RMOW's property tax revenue, a proportion that has risen steadily from 55.8 per cent in 2007.
The rising taxes, said Kelly, are just one of a number of factors that are causing second homeowners to pay more attention to matters in Whistler, particularly in an election year.
"I think you're going to see them more active, more interested in what's going on in Whistler than they have been in past years," he said. "(They're) not interested in just coming up to have a good time kind of way."
The previous council set property tax increases in 2007, Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed said in an interview. At the time they approved the RMOW's Long-Term Financial Plan, which recommended a property tax increase of nearly 20 per cent be implemented from 2009 to 2011 to maintain the then-current level of municipal services.
Council implemented an eight per cent property tax increase in 2009; a seven per cent increase in 2010; and the financial plan projected a four per cent tax increase in 2011.
Responding to the concerns of second homeowners that have been referred to Kelly and Brown, Melamed said that the municipality has contracts to honour that expire in 2011.
The contracts compare with what governments in Metro Vancouver pay their staff. Melamed said the Metro Vancouver contracts set wage scales "across the province of B.C."
"The suggestion that salaries seem to keep going up at the RMOW has been explained," he said. "We have contracts to honour, that expire in 2011, what we don't know is what the rules of the next round of contract negotiations will be. It's our expectation they will not be of the same order of magnitude in the past."