It is always alarming to look at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business's annual watchdog report on spending and see that Whistler is the second worst offender for municipal spending growth in our region (Poor Lytton is #1).
One's knee-jerk reaction is to bellow about how we are all over-taxed, how local government is not controlling its spending, how everyone wants their pound of flesh.
While there is always some truth to this position, there is also the truth of running a resort that sees over two million visitors each year (thank goodness) and the fact that spending to keep them happy is part of the reason the CFIB's figures make Whistler look irresponsible. In reality, the services we provide are for our tourists not just the nearly 11,000 who live here year-round.
And if you look at municipal surveys they tell you that for the most part people are happy with spending on parks, the trail systems and other "core" services of the municipality.
But still we are second from the bottom on the CFIB list... again! According to the report, which runs from 2000 to 2010, Whistler's real operating spending growth was 118 per cent, while the population growth was only 14 per cent.
This past week we also saw the release of the CFIB's Big City Spenders report. It looked at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — now there is no way to compare spending in Vancouver, say, to Whistler but the trend is there for everyone to see.
"Spending by Canada's three largest cities — Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — has grown by 3 to 8 times the rate of population growth over the past 12 years, yet cities are talking about new taxes.
"The report shows municipal spending has increased by 55 per cent in Canada overall, while population has only grown by 12 per cent," states the report going on to say, "...The increases in spending are largely driven by public sector wages and benefits, which consume between 52 to 67 per cent of local government operating spending in the three big cities."
In Whistler, we have seen staff numbers come down following all-time highs needed for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, but could they come down more?
And while the CFIB states that wages and benefits are higher at the municipal level than in the private sector there is plenty of evidence to suggest this is not the full story.
Statistics Canada figures from actual payroll data show that average wages paid by local governments have increased at a lower rate than overall average wages and at rates above the rate of inflation over the past 20 years. According to rabble.ca, "...average weekly wages paid by local, municipal and regional government rose from $622.67 in 1991 to $952.86 in 2012, a compound annual increase of 2 per cent a year, barely above the average inflation rate of 1.9 per cent during that period."