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School taxes may force long-time residents to cash out

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Like many people who had the good fortune to buy property in Whistler before the boom, Paul O'Mara has seen the value of his home steadily increase over the years.

His home in Nicklaus North has increased so much that his tax bill has jumped almost $4,500 in the past three years.

"But I have not increased my capacity to earn that much over the past three years," he said.

Almost half of this yearly tax bill goes towards school taxes.

After 28 years making his living as a general contractor in Whistler and raising his family here, O'Mara might eventually have to cash out and leave.

"You can't live on the value of a house."

It's a double-edged sword in some ways, he said.

O'Mara doesn't want people to think he's complaining about the fact that the value of his house keeps going up. But each year as the school taxes increase, it makes it harder to afford life in Whistler.

Whistler property owners pay the majority of the school tax bill for the Howe Sound School District – 68 per cent in 2000 – because the amount of school taxes paid by each homeowner is a function of property values. Those property values continue to rise disproportionately higher in Whistler than in other parts of the district.

Whistler accounts for than 20 per cent of the students in the district.

"Most of my contemporaries are working really hard and trying to afford to live here," he said.

But unless something changes most of that generation that raised their kids here are going to cash out and leave, he said.

The school taxes are exacerbating the continual struggle to ensure Whistler is an affordable place for people who live and work here.

"There's us ordinary people, except that we happened to buy in here 15-20 years ago. We were lucky," said long term resident Eileen Tomalty.

She said the taxes are driving people away to the neighbouring communities, where they are making their homes while commuting to Whistler to work.

This way they have more disposable income each year, she said.

"You can't blame them but we're losing their contribution to the community."

The town has recognized affordability as one of its key concerns.

"The municipality is deathly afraid of becoming an Aspen or Vail – a community that is owned by very wealthy people who don't have to live there and support the community," said O'Mara.

"If the inducement is to create value and then tax it to the point where only the wealthy people can afford it, they are not going to be the kind of people who will add to a community like this."

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