Opinion » Maxed Out

Where is affordable housing in the proposed 2016 budget?



Let's talk about budgets. No, wait! Before you turn back to the crossword or decide it's time to wash the cat, give me two more paragraphs to explain.

I know what you're thinking. Budget? Hell, I'd rather talk about dental surgery, fad diets, arcane forms of torture, almost anything other than budgets. I feel your pain. The very word budget conjures nausea for several good reasons. First, it's impossible to read the word budget without having the word deprivation come to mind. "It — that thing I want more than anything in the world — isn't in my budget."

Budgets are inextricably linked to numbers and numbers are inextricably linked to math and for many people, math is inextricably linked to nausea. So I promise, we'll skip the math part pretty much altogether. It's really not important to our conversation about budgets.

And hey, if you want to blow the next three months rent on a new mountain bike, via con dios, amigo. Your life; your decision. Besides, I don't want to talk about your budget. I want to talk about the municipal budget. Ah, perhaps a bit more interested, eh?

Or maybe not. I understand. There have been many years I've been outstandingly uninterested in the RMOW budget. There were the bend-me-over-and-have-your-way-with-me years, the ones leading up to the Olympics when we felt we were being bled dry by a local tough guy with an even bigger tough guy backing him up. They were incendiary budgets but ultimately uninteresting since there wasn't anything any of us could do but hang on to the tail of the comet for dear life.

But this year is different. We've come off several good years and, well, we're feeling a bit flush. Oh sure, we're a little worried about what's going to happen to our RMI funding when Christy Clark either decides she needs it to pump up her LNG heritage fund — there being no LNG dollars to fill that role in the foreseeable future — or she gets turfed in the next election. But in the overall scheme of things, RMI funding is a small part of the municipal budget. Not so much icing on the cake as extra icing on the cake.

The municipal budget is big. I'm not even going to mention how big it is because that would be the slippery slope sliding into all things math. It's big because Whistler's a big little town. We've got a big little reputation, a big little tax base, a big little lot of buildings and roads and sewers and waterworks and worker bees to make everything work and — this is important — to make everything a little bigger.

It's the worker bees job to make everything a little bigger. After all, if you're not getting a little bit bigger, you're not getting a little bit better. And if you're department isn't getting a little bit bigger and other ones are, well, dude, imagine the shrinkage.

So an important part of the worker bees' work is to figure out what they can do to make things a little bit bigger. I'm not suggesting that's all they do or that it's even the most important part. Most of what they do — and they do it very well — is to keep our shiny, big little mountain town in tip-top shape. Keep the water flowing, the sewage flowing (especially), put out the fires, keep the thugs from the Lower Mainland in line as much as possible, make sure the tourists are happy and impressed at what a lovely place this is and keep the amenities amenable.

But, like I said, they also have to scratch their heads and answer the question, "What comes next?"

The answer to that question lies in the 165 projects outlined in the 2016 budget. If you're curious as to what all of them are and have a latent streak of masochism in your personality, you can go to the RMOW website and download the document. I did. Yes, I was curious, though I'd hesitate to call it professional curiosity. As to my latent masochism... that's really none of your business and that's all I'll have to say about that subject.

As with any municipal budget, there are items that leave you wondering how in the world things can cost so much. The $35,000 project for new signs for the renamed Maury Young Arts Centre spring immediately to mind.

And there are those that seem both scary and bizarre at the same time. One such is a water project. Now I'm a big fan of Whistler's water and no expense is too much to keep it good and pure. But apparently there is a concern that, "Much of RMOW's water infrastructure has been constructed on crown land under a long term permit. These permits may require RMOW to restore these lands once the permitted use has ended." I don't know how much of a concern that is and I hope no one in a senior level of government is threatening to pull our leases for the very water we drink, but it must be a concern to someone because we've budgeted $81,000 this year and $48,000 for each of the next three years to... what, get ready to demolish our water system? Heck yeah, that's scary.

But the project I'm really having trouble with is good, ol' PO51. Apparently something called the 2015 Whistler Multi Use Facility Investigative Study suggested the thing Tiny Town needs almost more than anything else in the amenity universe is an artificial turf soccer field. There was $150,000 budgeted this year to do a needs assessment, build a business plan and conduct a site selection analysis. Next year, there is $3,350,000 budgeted to... to what? Build it, one would guess.

Not sure why we're bothering with a needs analysis if we've already decided to build it. Not sure why we've budgeted for it if we're not going to build it.

Mostly though, I'm not sure why we're building it at all. Yeah, it'd be nice to have. But I spent two hours last Friday listening to Mayor Nancy and Val Litwin on a CBC radio program connect the dots between a lack of workers to fill the service jobs in Whistler to the lack of affordable housing. I heard about the 120 hectre land bank we have from the Olympics. I heard about the new 27-unit rental apartment building WHA is building in Cheakamus, the price of which is about $5.5 million. And I heard how that's a good thing but it really won't put much of a dent in the problem.

And I'm wondering why we're not actively tackling that problem rather than pandering to a bunch of soccer parents who are tired of driving their kids down valley so they can play more soccer.

Why does the image of serving a starving person a rich dessert come to mind?


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