Whistler's municipal budget has been squeezed dry, according to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
After three years of zero per cent property tax increases, council is now considering the case for a 1.7 per cent increase in property taxes, a 1.5 per cent increase in water tax and a one per cent increase in sewer parcel tax in 2015.
"Talking to community members, people recognize that costs have gone up, demand for service levels have increased, and we've worked really hard over the course of the last three years to squeeze everything out of the budget that we could. And we were successful," said the mayor at the Feb. 25 budget open house.
"But there was only so much room to do that and we've exhausted that now."
The open house drew roughly 25 residents who were given the first look at the 2015 budget and the growing pressures on it, pressures such as increasing demands for services after record-breaking summers and strong winters.
Whistler's success is apparent in the budget — hotel tax (or MRDT — Municipal and Regional District Tax) in 2014 was $3.9 million.
"That is the highest amount of hotel tax the municipality has collected since 2001," said director of finance Ken Roggeman at the meeting.
The municipality will use $175,000 in MRDT to offset the costs associated with increasing service levels.
"It makes sense to us to take more of the MRDT and dedicate it towards village maintenance... It's just reflecting the number of guests who are coming here," said the mayor.
"A good problem to have."
Whistler Blackcomb's Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations, who keeps a close eye on municipal decision-making, called the budget "fair" and said the tax increase was to be expected.
"In my opinion they've kept it real, as far as a good balance between doing what's necessary to keep this community well served for our residents and for our guests, and yet trying to keep the costs reasonable for residents in the taxation department," he said.
"We knew a tax increase was coming because it's been three years without one. If you look at it overall — divide the 1.7 per cent by four years — it's very minor."
The 2015 budget also includes a $27.2 million capital plan. The bulk of the money to pay for that will come from reserves, or savings. This includes annual recurring projects such as road reconstruction and community wildfire protection, as well as new projects such as phase three of the skatepark, set at $800,000.
The skate community turned up at the meeting to add their two cents.
"We wanted to know about the budget and the timeframe," said Max Dumont, who came to hear what was going on with the skatepark plans.
Here is a snapshot of some of the projects on the horizon.
Investigating artificial turf field — $45,000
This project is set to look at the geotechnical investigations, preliminary design, costing and maintenance of operating a weather-protected artificial turf sport field. The project will examine an all-season enclosure, site servicing, lighting, washrooms, change rooms and parking.
BMX Track — $95,000
This line item covers the construction of a BMX Track at Bayly Park that will provide skills training for beginners to World Class BMX, skier cross and snowboard cross athletes. Local, regional, provincial and national events could be held here in the future.
Gateway Loop Reconstruction — $2 million
One of the biggest capital projects this year, this project will include final consultation with stakeholders and the public, pre-design, design, contract preparation and construction. The final bill will be dependent on the outcome of the public consultation process.
Nesters Solid Waste/Recycling Upgrade — $340,000
The Nesters Solid Waster Facility will get a "significant upgrade" in the next two years for better recycling and garbage facility. The upgrade includes an expansion into the adjacent lands — once owned by FortisBC but subsequently purchased by RMOW. The 2015 plan includes $40,000 for design this year and $300,000 for construction in 2016.
Tapley's Flood Options Assessment — $25,000
A consultant will be retained to look at options to reduce flood risk to property and provide cost estimates. Several concepts exist to reduce the flood risk. Those concepts will be analyzed for effectiveness, cost and complexity and the options will be presented to council for endorsement in 2015 and possible construction in 2016.
Whistler Cay Entrance — $85,000
This project will reconfigure the existing layout at Whistler Cay Drive with the removal of the centre median. It will include improved safety features for pedestrians and cyclists.
Valley Trail Cycling Review — $20,000
This project will address a number of cycling-related issues around the Valley Trail network. It will look at best practices regarding cycling safety, and inform future planning and regulatory initiatives.
Highway Intersection Capacity Analysis — $50,000
Whistler will review the capacity of highway intersections between Whistler and Vancouver and make recommendations about how capacity of those intersections could be improved. A further $50,000 will be spent to update several traffic studies to consider the current problems and potential solutions to improve traffic flow within Whistler and beyond Squamish.
40th Anniversary Celebration — $40,000
The celebration of the incorporation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler is set for Sept. 6. This is an opportunity to build community pride, engage stakeholders and celebrate the RMOW. There is the potential to produce a 40th anniversary RMOW brochure and video.
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