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Whistler, Squamish flex muscles

Financial players in regional district threaten to kill budget



By Alison Taylor

Whistler and Squamish mayors are threatening to quash the regional district’s 2007 budget, highlighting the growing schism between municipalities and rural areas in the region.

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland told the regional board in no uncertain terms this week that he would not approve any upcoming budget, which gives the four rural area directors more than $168,000 to be spent in their communities at their discretion.

That money, which comes to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District from a sizeable BC Hydro grant, traditionally has been used to fund community programs in the rural areas, rather than going into a general fund for the region as a whole.

“I will not vote for a budget that includes the Hydro grant with the way it is allocated now to the four area directors,” reiterated Sutherland after Monday’s heated SLRD meeting.

Whistler joined Squamish in opposition to the existing grant policy.

“What we’re saying is that the status quo needs to be changed,” explained Ken Melamed after the meeting. “There needs to be some clearer process around it and some more logical allocation of the funds.”

Together the two Squamish directors and the Whistler director can quash any financial plan for the region if it’s not to their liking; they fund the bulk of region’s budget and their voices on financial decisions carry more weight.

But area directors aren’t going to let the money go without a fight.

“These funds are a very important part of an electoral area,” said Mickey Macri, director of Area B, which covers the areas of Duffey Lake, Seton/Shalalth and Texas Creek.

It’s a financial tug of war that’s plagued the SLRD’s board table for years without resolution.

And while on the surface this issue is about the disbursement and allocation of the BC Hydro grant, at the heart of the matter is a growing sentiment among the municipalities, who fund the lion’s share of the regional district’s budget, that their concerns aren’t being heard at the board table.

“You don’t listen to the folks who give you the money in the first place,” said Sutherland, before leaving the meeting. (See related story.)

This year BC Hydro’s payment in lieu of taxes was more than $330,000.

Less than half of that money, roughly $163,000, went directly into the SLRD’s planning budget for the entire region, while the remainder was split equally among the four rural areas.