Whatcha doin' next Tuesday? Say, between 4 and 7:00 p.m.-ish? If you're like many Whistleratics, you'll be at work for a good part of those three hours. Pity that. After all, that's your main chance to hear about how the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is going to spend taxpayers' dollars this year and maybe engage personally with your councillors, mayor and key staff people.
From 4 to 5 p.m., you can enjoy the gallery walk upstairs at the Maury Young Arts Centre, formerly the Maurice Young Millennium Place, still known as MY Place to many confused people in town. I'm never sure if the gallery walk is the dog or the pony but there'll be a lot of graphic representations showing where the money comes from and where it goes, and a chance to ask questions of staff you normally don't get to ask.
The following 45 minutes will be comments and presentations from the mayor and council and others. These are usually of the self-congratulatory nature since they've worked hard to wrestle the budget bear to the ground, which is still a refreshing break from the dark years when the comments were more exculpatory than congratulatory and property taxes were going up like a barely guided missile.
After that, you can wander back to the boards, ask more questions, enjoy another cup of coffee or go home.
So I hear your question. Why in the world would I leave work early to go to this? Good question. Actually, it's an especially good question since, notwithstanding many requests, the meat of the budget won't be available for your consideration until either the day before or the day of the one and only budget community meeting. That's right. If you have any questions you'd like to ask on Tuesday, either read fast or be quick on your feet. You don't get a sneak peek.
And that's too bad. The only considered 'input' you'll have on the budget is questions or input you raise by email after Tuesday. You can have an engaging exchange of emails with email@example.com and hope your concerns are considered.
I have some budget concerns. They arise out of last year's budget and are still hanging questions for this year's budget. Chief among them is this: How in the world can the RMOW even be considering spending multiple millions of dollars on a plastic soccer field?
The last budget had $150,000 for a needs assessment for an artificial turf soccer mahal. It also contained a line item for this year of $3,350,000 for... well that was a little unclear but one suspects it isn't for more needs assessment. Perhaps construction?
If Whistler was the fabulously wealthy place the rest of Canada thinks it is, spending a couple of million bucks for a soccer field might seem reasonable. Might even seem reasonable if there weren't soccer fields in town already, which there are.
Heck, $3.35 million even seems reasonable compared to budget numbers reported in Pique last December. Citing a Committee of the Whole report, the estimates for the soccer mahal range from $4.2 million to $6.2 million with an annual operating cost of $25,000 to $35,000.
So, I hear you ask, what do you get for that kind of money? Early soccer. Kids will get to play four to six weeks earlier in the spring — when they ought to be skiing — just like the kids in the Lower Mainland and sea-level Squamish.
So why would the RMOW seriously consider this? Because the Whistler Youth Soccer Club really, really wants them to. They want to have a field as cool as other towns. They want their kids to play earlier in the season. They want to host tournaments. They want to create the next generation of soccer stars.
In the RMOW's most recently reported Community Life Survey, virtually everyone was very satisfied or satisfied with Whistler's recreational opportunities. Well, duh. Put another way, the priorities identified by permanent residents for improving their satisfaction with Whistler as a place to live reported increasing opportunities for recreational activity their lowest priority.
The Community Foundation of Whistler's Vital Signs survey conducted last year found the three highest priority areas Whistler residents believed needed to be addressed were housing, income inequality and work opportunities. Just in case you think they left recreation opportunities off that study, they didn't. It was the category with the highest satisfaction — higher even than arts and culture — and the lowest number of people saying serious and immediate attention is required.
There was another interesting bit of data in Vital Signs. It reported there were 503 youth registered in the Whistler Youth Soccer Club in 2015-16 — 503! Now I know that number is growing and will likely grow in the future, but let's compare that to, say, the waitlist of people signed up for Whistler Housing Authority housing.
There are in 669 names currently on the waitlist for WHA ownership housing; those names represent 945 individuals working in Whistler who would like better living arrangements and have a clear preference for staying in town and contributing to its continued success. There are another 686 people on the rental waitlist. There are untold numbers living in less than ideal circumstances who aren't on either waitlist because they don't see the point.
I have this weird picture in my head. It's a small group of well-meaning soccer parents talking to a group of Whistler worker bees, the kind businesses in town need so desperately but can't find enough of because there aren't enough places for them to live in anything more comfortable than over-priced squalor. Trying to explain why the RMOW ought to spend a couple of million bucks on the soccer mahal for 500-plus kids, they listen patiently to the housing woes of the worker bees and say, "Wow, we feel your pain. We're sorry you don't have a decent, affordable place to live. That's terrible. But we have children who need to play soccer a month earlier in the year. We're sure you understand."
I'm not so sure they understand. I'm not sure at all they don't question the priorities of their elected officials to even consider this expenditure a priority. And I hope they flood firstname.lastname@example.org with comments to that effect. Oh, and just for added impact, they might want to copy those comments to mayor and council. They can find their email addresses here: www.whistler.ca/stay-connected/contact.
Local government depends on your input. While I'm certain there will be a significant contingent at Tuesday's meeting from the soccer club, I'll bet there won't be a whole lot of folks who think municipal tax dollars would be better spent on housing, fire protection, social services or, well, just about anything other than a snazzy soccer field. So write early; write often. Oh, and complaining on Facebook doesn't count.