The municipality is feeling the financial strain of unfulfilled Olympic promises from the province and several challenging years for the tourism industry.
For the first time ever Whistler’s hotel tax reserve will have a negative balance in 2006. The reserve is projected to be negative $2.1 million, giving council the difficult task of trying to find funds elsewhere in the budget to pay for projects and operations funded by the hotel tax. Alternatively, the projects won’t get done.
Whistler’s expenses from the hotel tax reserve are now far more than its revenues.
If the trend continues Whistler’s image, reputation, and ability to deliver a world class Games may be on the line.
Not only are hotel tax revenues down significantly due to challenging economic times, operating expenses and other claims on the hotel tax money, for Olympic events and increased resort marketing, have gone up significantly.
It was hoped that financial tools promised at the time of the Olympic bid would help offset scenarios such as this.
"Suffice it to say, we can’t maintain the situation for much longer," said Mayor Ken Melamed on Tuesday, one week after he was in Victoria hoping for a successful resolution to Whistler’s long sought after financial tools.
Whistler has been lobbying for a bigger share of the provincial hotel tax as a new financial tool. It was to be one of the community’s Olympic legacies, promised to Whistler by Premier Gordon Campbell.
But after years of lobbying and devising formulas to make the idea palatable to the province, there is still no resolution.
In Councillor Gord McKeever’s mind, push has finally come to shove.
"Up until now it’s been disappointing but we’ve had the (financial) wherewithal to compensate for the failure," said McKeever, the only member of the current council – save the mayor – who was on council last term and involved in earlier lobbying.
"(This year) is the first time that we will be really handicapped in our ability to do what we need to do by the failure of the delivery of these commitments. So the game has stepped up a notch this year. This is the first time I think we’re up against the challenge of those unfulfilled promises."
Melamed and eight other members of the Resort Community Collaborative, communities that are lobbying as a group for more financial tools, met with provincial ministers on Tuesday, March 28 but failed to get any concrete commitments.
The mayor also met with Premier Gordon Campbell the following day where he talked about Whistler’s outstanding Olympic legacies such as the boundary expansion, the athletes village business plan and the financial tools (see related story).
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