Evidence of just how busy this record breaking season has been can be found in the lineups — for lifts, on the highway and in the grocery stores — which are now nearly a daily occurrence. But there are other, less visible signs of the problems "success" is creating for Whistler.
The odour that has hung over Function Junction for the last couple of months is one example. The volume of sewage is simply beyond what the treatment plant’s odour control system can handle. (However, officials say the volume is not beyond what the sewage treatment plant can process).
The Whistler Health Care Centre, which already handles about the same number of emergency cases in a year as Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, is also in need of more resources. Federal Fisheries Minister David Anderson learned how crowded the Whistler clinic is when he broke his hip skiing last week. He had to wait in a hallway until he could be transferred to the Lower Mainland for surgery.
The health care centre is now bracing for the increase in accidents which occurs every spring when the sun comes out and skiers and boarders start to go faster.
To solve these and other basic service or infrastructure problems that become worse as Whistler becomes more successful, more money is needed. The provincial government is the traditional source of funds for infrastructure, but of course the province hasn’t a spare nickel. Even if it did, the province usually divvies up funds to municipalities on some sort of per capita basis. Since Whistler’s permanent population is only around 8,000, and the town provides infrastructure, medical services and other services for a population that reaches over 40,000 during busy times, funding, by default, is inadequate.
But the source of Whistler’s infrastructure problems — visitors — could also be its solution, if the province provided the tools.
The provincial government is in the middle of a three-year plan to revamp the Municipal Act. To date most of the changes to the Act have been minor and inconsequential.
Municipalities are asking the province for some real changes to the Act, including new tools to raise funds, so that they can be less dependent on provincial handouts. For some municipalities that might be an additional tax collected on gasoline. For Whistler, some sort of additional tax on visitors would be the logical way to go, since infrastructure and services must be provided for visitors as well as residents. In addition to moving toward more of a user-pay system, the tax might also provide some relief for property owners, who currently contribute nearly 60 per cent of the municipal budget.
As Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said this week on Mountain FM, "I don’t have a problem with cut backs in provincial grants to municipalities, but give us the tools (to raise funds ourselves)."
The municipality has been building a case for "more tools" and will be presenting it to the province some time this year. With Whistler taxpayers nearing the end of their rope and Victoria touting the mountain resort industry as one of the bright spots in the provincial economy, all the elements would seem to be in place to make some significant changes.