Council briefs: Reserves policy to guide future councils on savings 

Whistler 2020 Development Corp to present strategic plan to council

click to enlarge GRAPHIC: RMOW COMMUNITY LIFE SURVEY (2012) - Planning the future According to Resort Municipality of Whistler figures, reserve balances appear healthy with growth over the last few years.
  • Graphic: RMOW Community Life Survey (2012)
  • Planning the future According to Resort Municipality of Whistler figures, reserve balances appear healthy with growth over the last few years.

There is no magic number in Whistler's new reserve policy, dictating how much money the municipality should set aside in savings every year for its aging infrastructure.

However, the reserves policy, which has been in the making throughout this council term, calls on Whistler to understand how much it is saving every year and why it's putting this money aside.

After receiving the report at Tuesday's council meeting, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden couldn't help but highlight that though council has delivered zero tax increases and zero service increases for the last three years, it also kept up its contributions to reserves, saving for the future.

In 2011 reserves levels were just under $55 million, climbing 17 per cent the following year and 18 per cent in 2013.

Reserves now sit at $76 million.

"I think it's worth reminding people about that while we are talking about reserves," she said. "Forgive me for being a little political."

The idea behind developing the policy was to understand why Whistler was saving what it was saving — a rationale for socking away roughly 20 per cent of the budget or roughly $10 million, on any given year. Was it too little? Too much?

"That's exactly why I wanted a reserves policy put in place," added Wilhelm-Morden.

"This work is really to my mind at least important and good work."

So while there is no magic number, the mayor is confident that the current level of contribution is the right number.

"Although... this is not prescriptive," she added. "We're not going to say 'OK, we're putting $10 million in reserves every year.' We've got a model that we plug the current year's circumstances into to look at what the reserve contribution for the year should be. What this has done is it has given us confidence about what we're doing and why we're doing it."

And so, just as taxpayers understand how much money will be spent on capital projects in any given year, so too will they now understand how much money must be saved to replace Whistler's aging assets.

The majority of $76 million in reserves — $56 million — are for asset replacement.

The municipality's assets, of which there are 3,900 components, have a lifespan lasting from next year until 90 years out. The assets have an estimated current replacement cost of $700 million.

In her report to council municipal economic development office Toni Metcalf said that the current contribution levels are adequate until roughly 2060.

"Going out to 2060 we are pretty secure in the current funding rates," she said.

After that, reserves will not cover full costs.

"It's a long-term planning exercise that one needs to think about," Ken Roggeman, municipal finance director, told council.

When asked after the meeting if she was concerned about the fact that current contributions will not cover replacement costs 50 to 60 years from now, the mayor said: "Certainly we have to keep our eye on that horizon but circumstances change from year to year let alone over the course of 50 years, and there will be debt retirement between now and then, all kinds of different circumstances may arise."

Many of the assets are often not visible to most residents and visitors. Take the water system: 168 km of water main, 15 storage reservoirs, 14 ground water wells, nine pump stations, 4,059 water service connections, 529 fire hydrants and 1,932 mainline valves.

Roggeman added: "Whistler is fortunate in some respects that we're a relatively new community."

Metcalf and Roggeman also highlighted the fact that by keeping reserve balances at a healthy level, this cash can be used internally to finance new opportunities as they arise.

For example, the municipality used money from its reserves to pay for the multi-million dollar debris barrier in the lead up to the 2010 Olympic Games.

Council of the day intended to pay back reserves that $5.7 million through pay parking revenues.

Current council decided in 2013 not to repay reserves for that project.

WDC to update on its reserves debt

In the lead up to the 2010 Olympic Games, the Whistler 2020 Development Corp (WDC) also borrowed money from municipal reserves to pay for the shortfall in the $161 million athletes' village development.

It borrowed $15 million for municipal reserves.

"That debt is still out there," confirmed Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden after Tuesday's council meeting.

"The WDC is going to be coming and presenting a strategic plan to the new council. A draft has been circulated now and there's a discussion about that debt in that strategic plan."

The WDC borrowed $100 million from the Municipal Finance Authority to pay for the village. That debt was paid off through the sale of employee housing units after the Games.

Blackcomb Liquor Store to get bigger

Council is moving ahead with plans to expand the Blackcomb Liquor Store in the Upper Village.

At Tuesday's meeting it approved the continued processing of a rezoning application that would increase the overall size of the retail store from 1,185 square feet (110 square metres) to 1,611 square feet (150 square metres).

The space is currently used by the Fitzsimmons Pub.

Council heard that the applicants would like to improve the use of the space, improve sightlines, have additional window displays and better serve customers.

There will likely be a future application to move the pub elsewhere in the building.

Council did not comment on the application.

Public Hearing on Tantalus rezoning

Council pushed ahead with a rezoning at the Northern Lights residential development on Tuesday.

It gave third reading of the bylaws for the Tantalus Drive subdivision, which will increase the gross floor area of the 49-unit development. The move comes in an effort to deal with illegal construction in the units built on Whistler Mountain. The complex has been a thorn in the municipality's side for the past 15 years.

The current zoning allows 88,000 square feet (8,190 square metres) overall in the development. The rezoning will increase that space to 131 square feet (12,138 square metres.)

No one spoke out against the bylaw at Tuesday's public hearing, but Northern Lights strata president encouraged council to move ahead with the bylaw.

"This is exactly what we wanted to do with the illegal space task force," said Wilhelm-Morden, adding that she commended the strata for having the foresight to come forward with the rezoning.

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