It may be time to turn off your water tap, as Whistler water
rates could face a price hike next year.
On Monday, municipal staff reported that the water utility has
been operating at a loss for several years: Whistler water rates are
“artificially” low and do not cover the operating costs of the utility.
“Anyone that has run a small business knows that if your costs
are average but your revenue is low, you are not going to be able to sustain
that business model for long,” said Brian Barnett, general manager of
environmental services for the municipality during Monday’s council meeting.
According to Barnett, while Whistler’s rate per person to
operate the utility is on average with other municipalities’, the resort town’s
water rates are starkly low. Whistler households pay approximately $87
annually, compared to the Canadian average of $274.
In 2005, Whistler’s water utility shortfall was around
$100,000. In 2006, that imbalance rose to $320,000, and last year the water
utility operated at a $370,000 loss.
“We expect a continuing trend with a shortfall again this
year,” said Barnett.
Higher labour costs, fuel and energy prices, and new operating
procedures are some of the main reasons the water utility’s operating costs
have increased dramatically.
Barnett said in past years, municipal staff reallocated funds
from other areas of the budget to cover these shortfalls. For 2009 however,
staff would like to see a long-term solution put in place.
How Whistler will mitigate this shortfall has not been decided
yet, but it is likely to come from increased water rates.
“Nothing is defined in the presentation to council, so it has
yet to be determined,” said Barnett.
“Having said that, the water utility is a self funded utility,
so all the revenue comes from water rates.”
The water utility shortfall was one of 30 items brought to
council Monday under a budget amendment bylaw. Other areas included the Lot 1/9
Celebration Space, and solid waste capital.
According to Lisa Landry, only the water utility shortfall
could mean a future dip into taxpayer pockets.
Shuffling existing funds internally should cover the other
In the report to council, Landry wrote that $163,000 has been
reallocated from the revenue sharing reserve to fund the Whistler Celebration
An extra $30,000 was also needed to complete the landfill
closure contract and set-up the ongoing landfill maintenance program. That
money has been transferred from the Water Transfer Station project. And
$400,000 has been contributed from the ESA Parkland reserve to pay for the
methane barrier project at Cheakamus Crossing.
During Monday’s meeting, council told Barnett they would like
more information about the water utility budget before they make any final
changes to the five-year financial plan.
“I am very concerned about affordability, and I am very
concerned about costs,” said Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
“Without going through this line by line… this is not ready for
prime time. This needs to go back. I think we owe it to our taxpayers to go
through this more carefully.”
Council deferred first, second and third reading of the five-year financial plan amendment until municipal staff provide more information on the budget challenges.