It's budget season again (was that a groan I heard?).
Last week, we learned that the proposed budget comes with a 2.8 per cent property tax increase for 2020 (That's down 0.1 per cent from last year) along with two-per-cent increases to sewer, water parcel and solid-waste fees.
We are also seeing a decrease in the rates for solid waste for 2020. Last year, there were two-per-cent increases to sewer parcel and water fees, and a 3.6-per-cent increase to solid-waste user fees. For 2020, the proposed rates are two per cent for each service.
The last time the resort saw zero increases in property taxes was pre-2015. We all remember that honeymoon period following significant tax increases. After the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there was considerable concern about the state of our reserves, which were getting depleted, and this, in part, led to a 24.5-per-cent tax increase over three years. While with hindsight, the tax hike was a prudent move, it was one of the reasons the entire council and mayor were ousted from office in the 2011 election.
By the end of 2014, we had approximately $100 million in reserves. About 20 per cent of the taxes the municipality receives along with fees fund the reserves, which this year sits at about $85.8 million. That is up substantially from 2016 where it was at $73.5 million.
It may seem a small detail but the water pipes, sewer system—all the nuts and bolts of running this resort, which sees more than 3 million visitors a year, depends on upgrades funded out of the reserves, so maintaining a tight handle on it is absolutely necessary for the long-term health of the community.
But don't take my word for it. Go and read the budget documents for yourself. This is a report that impacts every single person living and working in Whistler, and you have until Dec. 3 to weigh in with your thoughts on not just the proposed tax increases, but also the 162 projects, which have a proposed budget cost of $39 million in 2020 (including up to $10 million carried over from 2019).
The total municipal budget is worth $90.4 million next year, up from $87 million in 2019.
Perhaps you'd like to weigh in on the increased budget for the new public washrooms including the "pavilion" at the $6.8 million Gateway Loop location?
Last week, we learned in the budget documents that the project had gone up 50 per cent in cost from $3 million to $4.58 million (if Pique's social media sites are any indication, Whistlerites have lots to say about this project!). Eighty-five per cent of the costs will be covered by Resort Municipality Initiative funds with the rest coming from our reserves.
A Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) spokesperson told Pique last week the municipality engaged a construction manager to review the designs and previous contract package "which resulted in changes and identified cost savings. That said, the overall cost increase is reflective of anticipated local market construction conditions."
Does this feel like déjà vu on the Gateway Loop project, anyone? It was many, many months before Whistler had the real story on that project, including the fact that labour from out of town had to be put up in hotels here to work as the construction sector was so hot at that time—and that situation has not improved. Its $2 million roof was specially designed for seismic activity and snow load, there was $1 million in landscaping costs, 138 cubic metres of concrete—about enough to pour foundations for three 2,500-square-foot homes—was required to support the roof, which includes an internal drainage system coupled with heat tracing to allow snow and water to flow through two of the 13 columns into the storm drainage system, and it's built to service 5,000 people a day.
And, logic would tell you many of those 5,000 will need to use a bathroom.
One of the most frustrating issues around the Gateway Loop was the lack of detail and information given to the public to support the expenditure, and I have to be honest, it felt like the same thing is happening with the public-washroom project.
This week, the municipality released information supporting its decision after requests from Pique. (See story on Page 16.)
Councillor Ralph Forsyth was elected on a promise to watch expenditures and as the person overseeing the Finance and Audit portfolio for council I am sure he has his eye on the potty project.
His takeaway after investigating the Gateway Loop was to focus more on the tendering process and timelines of future projects to avoid similar expenditures where possible.
So, reach out to council and the municipality and share your thoughts on the budget and its many projects—your elected officials are listening (I hope...).