It only takes the gloomy prospect of raising property taxes to draw a crowd out for a discussion on the municipal budget.
Last Friday roughly 50 community members, up significantly from budget open houses in the past which typically eke out three to four people, gathered with council to discuss the 2008 budget.
The turnout was a sign of the concern in the community for the $3.8 million shortfall facing the 2008 budget.
That shortfall translates to a 14 per cent raise in property taxes.
“Nobody likes to pay taxes,” said Mayor Ken Melamed, who took centre stage at the GLC with five councillors.
“We’re all very committed to trying to deliver a program that is within reason and yet protects the resort for the future.”
Therein lies the puzzle — how much do you have to raise taxes and cut spending to achieve that goal?
Local business owner Dave Davenport urged council to develop a budget based on inflation — in other words, a budget with a 2.1 per cent increase to property taxes, just as in years past.
That way the community can see just how much would be cut from spending and the tangible impacts of losing $3.8 million, and make its decision accordingly.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler jumped on the suggestion and asked the room if there were any “sacred cows”, any things that could not be compromised with such a significant budgetary blow.
The question was met with silence until Whistler-Blackcomb’s Stuart Rempel spoke and highlighted that there are in fact “sacred cows.” Whistler’s mission, he reminded the room, is to be the premiere mountain resort community and it needs to look like it.
Community members, in addition to offering suggestions, took the opportunity to take council to task over its spending of late.
One community member likened council to kids let loose in a candy store. Now, he said, council has a bellyache. He pointed to council’s decision to exempt Whistler-Blackcomb from paying taxes on the Peak to Peak gondola as an example.
“I am strongly opposed to any tax increases above inflation,” said the property owner.
Melamed, however, nipped any discussion of past decisions in the bud, saying it was not useful.
“Maybe some mistakes were made,” he said. “Let’s talk about where we are today.”
A common theme from residents who attended was a call to reign in capital spending at the council table.
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