Property taxes and capital spending projects are expected to secure the most public interest at this Friday's municipal budget open house when the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) unveils preliminary financial information for 2011 and beyond. Maintaining current service levels and mitigating the imminent rise in property taxes - estimated at a minimum of four per cent next year - will likely be a challenge in the upcoming budget due to circumstances that took place earlier this decade.
Though the municipality spread a property tax hike of 20 per cent over a three-year period - resulting in an eight per cent rise in 2009, a seven per cent rise in 2010, and a planned four per cent rise in 2011 - unforeseen circumstances could drive the final numbers higher than expected. Reaching build-out capacity within the community after years of Olympic-fuelled growth, along with escalating transit costs, unpaid parking in Lot 4 and a continued loss of revenue related to the Strata Hotel Class 1 Class 6 issue - which resulted in an annual loss of $2.2 million - are likely to be balanced by the tax.
"The overall purpose of the open house is to apprise the public of the certain status of our projections and let them in on what we're seeing," said Lisa Landry. "I do hear a lot... that people don't know the whole picture. They don't realize that what happened in 2008 is still impacting us, they don't know that we're not just reaching into their pocket to get more money for pay parking. We're trying to get that (money) to go towards transit, and if we don't get it through user fees then we'll have to get it through taxes. That's why I think that the public open house and getting the word out there (is necessary) for people to understand that."
Unlike previous open houses, which were executed in a more formal lecture format, Friday's event will feature various tables that focus on individual aspects of the city's finances including long-term finances, capital spending, property tax impact and an introduction to municipal finances. City staff will be on hand to answer questions, clarify gray areas and gather public input to help guide the project. Landry expects a good majority of those attending to raise questions around property taxes, which she says are simply unavoidable.
"We have to do it through property taxes because we don't really have any other options," she said. "As a municipality you're pretty limited. The province tells you what you're allowed to do. You're not allowed to put in a sales tax or a property purchase tax... those are silly examples, but you can only raise (property) taxes or put in a user fee."
Each year council reviews the priorities for the upcoming year and directs staff to prepare a comprehensive Five-Year Financial Plan as required by the Community Charter. Information gathered at the open house will be compiled with data collected in a phone survey of the community. New this year is an online survey, which will be available from November 24 to mid-December on whistler.ca and whistler2020.ca .
The open house will take place Friday, Nov. 19, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Spruce Grove Field House.