It was another big spending year at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in 2017, including rising payroll costs and increased project spends, according to the annual Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report.
Payroll costs totaled $30,738,855 in 2017, up from $29.2 million the year before, while the RMOW doled out $70,698,380 to suppliers (up from $62.1 million in 2016).
The payroll increase is due in part to municipal wage increases—1.5 per cent in each of 2016 and 2017, to be followed by another two per cent in 2018 and 2019—as well as a number of new positions created to deal with enforcement of illegal nightly rentals and parking, and a new WorkSafe public health and safety officer.
"We did have some retroactive pay in 2016 that was paid out to employees in 2017," said Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey.
"That was about $283,000, and that would have come out of a surplus we had in 2017."
In discussing this year's SOFI report, Furey highlighted the RMOW's focus on fiscal prudence in recent years, going back to three straight years of zero property tax increases, followed by increases of 1.6 per cent in 2016, 1.9 per cent in 2017 and 2.25 per cent in 2018.
"We believe that that's a reasonable increase given the ever-escalating costs of goods and services, and we work hard to try and keep our expenditures down on all fronts, including our projects and our operating and our staff costs," Furey said.
"I think it's safe to say everyone in the community has been dealing with and responding to the success of the last three years, in terms of visitation and occupancy rates, and of course that extends over to the RMOW in places ... practical things like our crews in the Village and on the Valley Trail, etc., have been dealing with that increased growth.
"My point around all of that is that we have tried to respond to that increased growth and busyness largely within existing resources, so that helps keep our overall costs down."
Furey believes Whistler is in a sound financial position right now, with a reserve base of more than $90 million (the reserve policy is set to be updated this year).
"We don't take any of that for granted, but during the course of the term you hear various comments about we shouldn't be spending money on this or we shouldn't be spending money on that, and it's hard to sort of make comparisons over whether one expenditure should have been made and another one not made—we don't really approach it that way. We look at trying to find a balance between service delivery for the community and for the guests, and trying to really keep our eye on the property tax, as we know that really resonates with the community," he said.
"Overall, I think this council has done a really good job of providing direction around fiscal prudence, and yes we have made some investments like the Parkhurst (lands), but I think we're in a very sound financial position."
THE TOP EARNERS—$75K AND UP
The SOFI report (which is included in the June 19 council package and will be posted to www.whistler.ca/municipal-gov/budget-taxes/financial-plans-reports) includes an alphabetical list of RMOW staffers earning more than $75,000 a year.
The 2017 edition shows 105 staffers above the $75K threshold, up from 104 in 2016.
The wages also include things like employee contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and health benefits.
Furey was the top earner in 2017, taking home $250,292 (up from $239,454 in 2016), followed by others in senior management: general manager of resort experience Jan Jansen ($180,031, up from $165,783 in 2016), general manager of corporate and community services Norm McPhail ($179,283, up from $162,730 in 2016) and general manager of infrastructure services James Hallisey ($159,299, up from $144,511 in 2016).
Many of the salaries increased well beyond the 1.5-per-cent wage increase in 2016, but there are a variety of factors in calculating the total remuneration, an RMOW spokesperson explained.
"In addition to regular pay, total remuneration may include overtime pay, statutory holiday pay, payments of accrued vacation, sick and banked overtime, and retroactive pay rate changes. With each of these variables changing from year to year, the remuneration amounts will fluctuate annually," the spokesperson said.
"The remuneration amounts disclosed in the SOFI report incorporate a number of inclusions: any form of salary, wages, taxable benefits, payment into trust or any form of income deferral paid by the corporation to the employee or on behalf of the employee during the fiscal year being reported upon. It also includes monies that the employee may not receive such as the employee portion of Canada Pension Plan premiums and Employment Insurance."
Whistler's firefighters once again made up a big portion of the resort's top earners, with 23 names making the 2017 SOFI list.
Whistler Fire Rescue Service Chief Geoff Playfair led the way at $151,138 (down from a 2016 remuneration of $157,373).
Of the 23 firefighters listed, only three fell below the $100K mark.
Whistler's firefighters are on a pay scale based on length of service, and also benefit from overtime pay (firefighters called in on short notice earn time and a half).
Payments to suppliers continued to rise last year, to a total of $70,698,380 (up from $62 million in 2016, and $47 million in 2015).
The numbers were inflated in part by a $6.5-++million payment to Whistler North Developments Ltd. (for the purchase of the Parkhurst lands) and $4,072,445 to Wilco Civil Inc. for the Gateway Loop project.
Other big payments included $6.56 million to BC Transit, $3.8 million to Tourism Whistler, $3.3 million to Evergreen Projects Ltd. (for waste removal), $3.26 million to Alpine Paving, and $3.5 million to the receiver general for policing costs.
Furey said he breaks the spending down into three areas: things you don't have a choice but to spend money on (policing, snow clearing, etc.); infrastructure replacements that could be put off, but probably shouldn't (like the $1.1 million spent on waterproofing a village parkade); and spending to increase the guest experience in the resort (projects like Wayfinding signs or the Cultural Connector).
"(Sometimes) we can use the (Resort Municipality Initiative) money, or (Municipal and Regional District Tax) money for those, but those are strategic investments made to keep the community vibrant and meet the changing demands of the community," Furey said, adding that the RMOW's procurement of RMI and MRDT funding—up to $70 million worth over the past seven years—is one of the things he's particularly proud of.
"Unlike a lot of municipalities, Whistler is a purveyor and a provider of a resort experience ... the village and the Valley Trail and the mountain bike trails are growing more and more as a tourism product, like Olympic Plaza and (Festivals, Events and Animation) and our concerts."