Frustration around DES continues 

Council briefs: Q2 financial report presented

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - waiting for answers Frustration is mounting among Cheakamus residents over the costly District Energy System.
  • file photo
  • waiting for answers Frustration is mounting among Cheakamus residents over the costly District Energy System.

The letters keep on coming.

Five more Cheakamus Crossing residents wrote to council recently to express frustration around the neighbourhood's District Energy System (DES), adding to the robust collection already on file at municipal hall.

At the Sept. 6 Whistler council meeting, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden provided an update on the controversial system.

While a report on the DES' technical issues presented back in June found no systematic failure, "it did identify some deficiencies," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"Whistler 2020 Development Corp. is now focusing its attentions on the challenges being encountered in individual homes and looking to gather more information on these DES issues," she said.

"Their plan is to identify specific DES deficiencies and look for ways to facilitate improved operations of the DES units by homeowners."

Whistler 2020 has met with a representative of the volunteer Cheakamus Crossing DES committee and will be making more information about the next steps available as soon as possible.

"We appreciate the urgency of this matter given the approaching winter season, and work on this matter does remain a priority," Wilhelm-Morden said.

The DES is a closed ambient heating method that captures waste heat from Whistler's sewage treatment plant to pump into homes that was touted by officials as an energy-efficient, cost-effective system in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics.

The reality is that some residents have run up thousands of dollars in maintenance and repair bills since the system was first installed.

A 2015 poll of 85 Cheakamus Crossing residents found that 80 per cent were not satisfied with the system.

'NO SIGNIFICANT SURPRISES' IN QUARTERLY FINANCIAL UPDATE

At the halfway mark of 2016, municipal finances at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) were about on track with where they were last year, according to the 2016 Second Quarter Financial Report, which was presented to council on Sept. 6.

Six months in, overall operating revenues were at 83 per cent and expenditures 50 per cent of their annual budgeted amounts, compared to 84 and 48 per cent, respectively, in 2015.

The revenue includes the property tax and utility billing that takes place in May and June, as well as all of this year's provincial Resort Municipality Initiative funds.

Permit and fee revenue — which includes parking — was tracking ahead of budget ($2.1 million to a budgeted $2.8), while revenue from user fees was also up $600,000 over 2015, largely due to an increase in solid-waste tipping fees at the dump.

Building permit and works and services revenue both fell slightly, "but (that's) expected given the exceptionally high level that they were at in the previous year," said director of finance Ken Roggeman in his report to council.

"Our operating budget might be tight by the time we get to the end of the year," Roggeman noted, pointing to costs associated with the retro pay for firefighters, vehicle maintenance and the higher costs that have come with increased visitation.

"It's challenging to manage our costs when the incremental revenue that we get because of high visitation really is quite small," he said. "Yet at this time I would say that there's no significant surprises that I might bring to your attention."

The RMOW's investment balances — used to earn investment income on cash not currently required for operations, projects or capital purposes — had a market value of $127.6 million as of June 30 (up from $117.3 million at the same time last year).

Income from investments was $1,268,919 (unaudited) at the halfway mark of 2016, 58 per cent of the total budgeted for the year and an overall annualized return of about 2.5 per cent on the average monthly investment balances.

WHISTLER GETS $90K FOR VALLEY TRAIL EXTENSION; GATEWAY LOOP IMPROVEMENT POSTPONED

A Valley Trail extension to the front door of Meadow Park Sports Centre (MPSC) is being funded with $90,102 from Bike BC and the provincial Ministry of Transportation.

The extension will be about 200 metres in total, and will connect the MPSC to the wider Valley Trail network.

"The Valley Trail extension will make it easier and safer for people to bike, walk or take transit to MPSC," Wilhelm-Morden said in a release.

"This aligns with the Whistler 2020 goal of encouraging the use of alternative methods of transportation and is part of fostering a healthy, active community."

Bike BC is a provincial cost-sharing program that helps communities build cycling projects that encourage people to get on their bikes.

Meanwhile, the proposed Gateway Loop Improvement Project — originally set to get underway this summer — has been postponed until September 2017.

An invitation for tenders closed in July, but after a review of the tenders by both the RMOW and a consultant team, "a decision was made to cancel the tender without awarding a contract due to budget constraints," the RMOW said in a release.

"Following a review of the scope and configuration of the tenders, the invitation for tenders will be re-issued this fall and close before the end of the year to enable construction to start in the spring of 2017."

The RMOW settled on its preferred, "medium intervention" redesign option back in April 2015 after consultation with stakeholders.

The redesign aims to improve the guest arrival experience, as well as capacity and mobility for buses and taxis.

"Re-issuing the invitation for tenders will help to ensure that this project is completed efficiently and on budget next year," Wilhelm-Morden said in the release.

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