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Tax imbalance hits B.C. municipalities hard

Whistler's unique stats don't paint clear picture compared to rest of the province


The most recent report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) depicts a worrisome situation in which small businesses shoulder more of the tax burden — but that Whistler remains in a league of its own.

"We've been doing this for nine iterations so we've been tracking it for a long time and the trend has continued to be that spending is consistently outpacing both inflation and population growth," said CFIB economist Aaron Aerts.

The 20 largest municipalities in B.C. depict a growing disparity between commercial and residential property tax rates, also known as the "tax gap." The average tax gap for all B.C. municipalities is 2.60, which means that business owners pay more than 2.5 times what residents pay on the same-valued property.

Whistler's tax gap for 2015 is 4.0, but due to its unique nature as a resort municipality, it shouldn't be measured alongside other municipalities.

"Whistler is unique and not directly comparable to most B.C. municipalities when it comes to spending, due to the large number of tourists it provides services to and how official population estimates don't encompass non-permanent residents," Aerts said. "For that reason, the per-person spending is much higher than other B.C. municipalities."

Specifically for Whistler, Aerts said: "You're looking at a small-business owner who has to pay four times what a resident pays on the same property value. It hurts their bottom line because it is property sensitive — so whether they're doing poorly or well, they're paying it either way."

Do Whistler's small businesses pay more than their fare share?

"No, as a matter of fact it's exactly the opposite," said Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. "The residential homeowners pay more than their fair share, if you want to characterize it like that, because so much of our operating budget goes to tourism-related services. And if we were going to foist all of that on the business owners, their business taxes would go through the roof."

Wilhelm-Morden agreed Whistler is unique and, as such, should not be measured like other municipalities.

"On any given day, there are 30,000 people here — so 10,000 permanents, then seasonal and second-homeowners. So if they had used that number instead of 10,000 per capita, our spending number would have been far different," she said.

"When we look at our economy and we're just humming along at $1.53 billion in provincial GDP (Gross Domestic Product) annually, we've got a very positive economic picture and we've been able to keep up in providing municipal services, which have been much more in demand."

Wilhelm-Morden said she doesn't hear complaints about property or business taxes.

"No, I hear from people about traffic, parking and residential issues," she said. "I think most taxpayers would say they are getting value."

The tax gap for the 20 largest cities in B.C. stood at 3.04 in 2015, above the provincial average of 2.60. The worst tax gaps were among some of the most populous: Coquitlam at 4.24, Vancouver at 4.15 and Burnaby at 3.98.


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