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RMOW applies for hotel tax bump

Council briefs: council approves UBCM bids; Upgrades in store for RMOW website

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The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is ready to make its request for a one-per-cent increase to the hotel tax.

At its March 7 meeting, council gave first, second and third readings to an Accommodation Tax Request bylaw that would formally ask the provincial government to raise Whistler's Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) from the current two per cent to three per cent.

If approved, the increase could net the RMOW an additional $2- to 2.5-million in revenue, to be shared equally with Tourism Whistler and used only for tourism marketing, programs and projects.

The application has been in the works for some time, but has been held up by an issue around definitions regarding how the money can be spent.

"When we apply to use the funds, for example, for picking up garbage in Whistler Olympic Plaza after a free concert, the response can come back 'well, picking up garbage isn't promoting tourism,'" said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden ahead of the meeting.

"Well it is when there's been 6,000 people in the plaza listening to a free concert."

But the definitions issue has been sorted, for now, and Wilhelm-Morden said the rest of the process should go smoothly.

"We've had extensive discussions with provincial officials, and I don't foresee any difficulties with getting this approved," she said.

The application will be submitted to Destination BC, which will review it and forward it to the Ministry of Finance for processing. Final provincial approval could take up to nine months.

Asked if the increase relieves some cost pressures in other areas, the mayor said it does and it doesn't.

"We've got 3 million visitors annually, so the demand for service is continuing to increase," she said. "These funds will be used quickly, that's for sure."

RMOW TO BID ON UBCM CONVENTIONS

The RMOW is angling to host the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) conventions in one or all of the years 2020, 2022, 2024 and 2026.

Council directed staff to submit the bids at its March 7 meeting.

The UBCM convention is the main policy-making forum for local governments in the province, and typically represents about 3,000 to 3,500 room nights for the resort.

The RMOW hosted the convention in 2002, 2010 and 2014, and will host it again from Sept. 10 to 14, 2018.

The convention cost the municipality about $100,000 to host in 2010, but a $20 room surcharge for each convention delegate helped bring that cost down to $31,240.

Hosting future conventions is expected to cost in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, after a similar surcharge, with costs being funded from RMOW general reserves.

UPGRADES IN STORE FOR municipal WEBSITE

Included in this year's municipal budget is $105,300 for upgrades to the RMOW's website, www.whistler.ca.

The cost breakdown is $42,000 for a major software upgrade, $35,000 for the integration of new online services (like the customer-service tool The Civic Platform, a GIS map update and a new recreation booking and payment system) and $12,000 for design updates.

The remaining $16,300 is designated as a contingency fund and for staff hours.

The major upgrade to the website's Drupal software will be in place until 2021.

"This is required to maintain site security, update to support Java scripts and keep up to date with other aspects of the Internet," an RMOW spokesperson said in an email. "The work is mostly programming, where all content needs to be migrated to the new platform."

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