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Whistler businesses get tax relief in 2004



Council will give Whistler businesses a small tax break this year in recognition of the challenging economic times in the resort.

"It’s not a pleasant scene out there (for businesses)," said Councillor Gordon McKeever at Monday’s council meeting.

"(This relief) not enough to change (it) but certainly an indicator of the recognition of the challenges they’re facing."

The relief means a business with an assessed value of $600,000 will get a tax break of about $165. Likewise, if a business has an assessed value of $1.2 million, the relief would double to $330.

The relief will represent close to a $400,000 reduction in the municipality’s tax revenue for 2004. The money will come out of the operating reserve, which is generally used for different things that come up throughout the year.

It was a close vote at the council table on Monday night with Councillors Ken Melamed, Kristi Wells and Caroline Lamont, all voting against the tax relief as proposed.

Lamont called the relief a token gesture that was "politically driven." Though she admits that isn’t a bad thing, she would like to see council focus on initiatives that would ensure the long-term health of local businesses.

Melamed called it a "knee jerk" reaction that potentially unloads the tax burden from businesses onto the rest of the population.

Additionally, he said Whistler businesses have willingly gone more upscale over the years, cashing in on the gentrification of the resort, and as such, have driven up assessed values and taxes. And now, he sees council taking pity on those businesses.

He said $165 worth of relief doesn’t amount to much for some businesses.

"(It) isn’t effective use of our energies and powers," he said.

Councillor Nick Davies balked at some of Melamed’s comments.

"We’re talking about local people here," said Davies, adding that this relief is helping those people who have worked here for years and years.

He said the relief shows that the local government is prepared to tighten its belt to demonstrate that it recognizes there’s a problem.

Councillor Kristi Wells said this move doesn’t really reflect the municipality tightening its belt. Rather, she said the relief takes money out of the system forever.

She would prefer that the municipality waive the business license fee, which is roughly the same cost, or that it provide businesses with a year-long transit pass.

She sees those initiatives as adding more value.

Wells was cut off mid statement as council effected a new policy at the Monday meeting.

Now, whenever a councillor gets off topic or is taking too much time on the floor, other councillors can lower their microphones as a sign they want the discussion to be cut off.

Four microphones, namely those belonging to Davies, Marianne Wade, McKeever and Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, were lowered during Well’s speech, allowing the mayor to cut her off mid-point.

He then put the business tax relief to the vote. A 4-3 vote passed the motion.

Lisa Landry, manager of fiscal planning for the municipality said the tax relief would not come in the form of a cheque. Instead, business will just pay less on the municipal portion of their tax bill.

The municipality will be engaging consultants to look at the property tax structure and to come up with some principles and guidelines that will allow the RMOW to develop a fair and equitable tax structure. It is hoped the review will take a look at the difference between Class 1 residential taxes and Class 6 business taxes.

The work is just getting underway and should be ready for council review within two or three months.

The rate for the provincial school taxes has not yet been set and this could affect the overall tax bill for businesses.

Local homeowners however are getting the school tax rebate again this year.

The rebate program gives Whistler residents a tax break in two ways. First off, the Home Owner’s Grant (HOG) cap is increased to $2 million. That means permanent residents who own homes assessed at $2 million or less will qualify for the $470 HOG rebates ($745 for seniors.)

The second part of the rebate involves the school tax rate. Last year the province created a separate school tax rate for resident homeowners. For a resident homeowner whose property was assessed at last year’s Whistler average of $1,043,000, they got roughly $160 in relief based on the special tax rate. This was added to the HOG relief.

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