The business community zeroed in on the municipality's 2009 and 2010 budget process at the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's luncheon Wednesday, Jan. 21, with questions focused on revenue.
Tom Horler, owner and operator of McDonald's franchises in Whistler and Pemberton, asked how a dip in revenue from hotel tax this year will affect the budget, since Whistler has fewer visitors this year compared to last year.
Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability, said the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is cognizant of how tourist numbers will impact municipal revenue. She is calculating a 15 to 20 per cent decrease in hotel tax revenue for the upcoming year.
The municipality currently collects 43 per cent of its income from property tax, 24 per cent from utility fees, and 18 per cent from hotel tax. In 2008, the RMOW received $11 million from the hotel tax.
Mayor Ken Melamed also stressed the municipality is still learning how to plan long-term with the six per cent hotel tax, since last year was the first full fiscal year they received the tax.
"We will have to start budgeting more like our American counterparts who rely on sales tax, which is also cyclical in nature," said Melamed.
"We might be working on averaging the hotel tax over the long term instead of having to adjust year after year."
Last week's meeting was the second public session the municipality has held regarding the 2009 and 2010 budgets. More details on this year's budget constraints will likely be announced at the RMOW's next public budget meeting, expected sometime in February.
A property tax increase is likely. Last year, municipal analysts projected a $1.3 million shortfall for both 2009 and 2010. And 2008 also was the first time in recent memory the RMOW increased taxes above the rate of inflation, to 5.5 per cent.
Melamed added the municipality is carefully reviewing options to find better ways of balancing the budget without simply increasing taxes.
"We are trying to be very entrepreneurial and invest in our cache... to take the burden off our residents and businesses," said the mayor.
The municipality is looking at charging for parking at the day skier lots, use of the compost facility, and the Whistler Centre for Sustainability to increase revenue, said Melamed.
But the RMOW will not change the current business to residential tax ratio, set at 3.5 to 1, added Melamed.
"We are quite comfortable where it is," said the mayor, comparing it to the provincial ratio set at 4 to 1.
"We are very respectful of the burden on local businesses and the decreased revenue through decreased visitation, but does that mean we are going to increase the burden to the residential taxpayers? Probably not."
Melamed added that the municipality does not plan on diversifying Whistler's economy away from tourism, based on feedback from Whistler 2020 task forces.
"Until the community tells us otherwise... we are not going there, but absolutely we have to continue to be asking ourselves if we are going on the right track," said Melamed.
So far Landry said the budget discussions have been good.
"People are asking really thoughtful and relevant questions and getting an understanding of the issues we face, which aren't simple," said Landry.
"These are challenging times, there are no easy answers, and I think people are cognizant of that."
More information on the RMOW's 2009 and 2010 budgets can be found at www.whistler.ca, where an online discussion has started.
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