Not one member of the public was on hand to hear council deliver its best news to date in 2013 — the proposed municipal budget will hold the line on taxes.
But perhaps when taxpayers learn there's a $363,000 budget surplus, to be divvied up, saved or spent at council's discretion, public interest could step up a notch in the coming weeks.
"That's a number that we can use to fund additional costs... it's something that we can use and consider what's in the best interests of the municipality," said Ken Roggeman, RMOW's director of finance, at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting in which he presented the draft 2013 budget as part of the municipality's Five Year Financial Plan.
And while things could change between now and the approval of the budget bylaws in March, all indications are pointing to a municipal budget, lean on spending, with more operating efficiencies than have been seen in a long time — efficiencies that are being felt in the back pockets of Whistler taxpayers.
"It makes us look really good as a council," said Councillor John Grills, expressing the general sentiment at the table of how pleased council was to see the proposed zero tax increase.
He was quick to deflect the praise away from council, however.
"But there's a great deal of work done by the staff and management."
Even though there are increased costs this year to the tune of almost $1 million for things like the RCMP budget, the new ice rink at the Olympic plaza, and labour, staff also found more than half a million dollars in efficiencies at the hall. That comes on the heels of the $1.1 million reduction in the annual operating budget in the 2011 service review through cuts to services and increased fees, as well as other cuts done in 2012 in the organizational review that eliminated a department at the hall, among other things, and which found another half a million dollars.
"I think there's been a level of scrutiny... some of that scrutiny really quite intense, to go through the budget and zero base it to some degree," said Councillor Roger McCarthy.
When the half a million in efficiencies is considered with increases in hotel room tax revenues and RMI revenues, along with other changes, it puts Whistler in the position of a $363,000 preliminary surplus at this point.
And that leaves a lot up for debate before this budget is passed in March.
Some of the staff/public requests for increased funding are:
• $60,000 for the library to open on Sunday
• $8,568 for snow clearing services to go back to previous service levels before the program was cut in the 2011 service review
• $54,700 for village maintenance to include earlier litter pick up completion (10-11 a.m.) and increased snow shovelling
• $18,356 for parks sanitation services to re-establish weekend service levels (second daily clean up in parks and washrooms).
Council also heard of the 2013 capital budget of $13.5 million, the bulk of which is paid for out of municipal reserves and not the operating budget.
About half of that budget is for annual recurring projects such as Fitzsimmons Creek gravel removal, bridge reconstruction, and Valley Trail reconstruction.
A further $1.9 million has been set aside for continuing projects: the cashier counter at municipal hall, master planning of the hostel site, and finishing off Bayly Park.
And then there are new capital projects worth $2.9 million. Those projects include:
• $48,000 for the municipal website and social media integration
• $40,000 to update the community's energy plan
• $65,000 for records management at the hall
• $100,000 for the Whistler Gateway, a project that will examine and undertake opportunities to enhance the Highway 99 arrival experience with things like welcome signs, commercial signs, vegetative screening.
Other parts of the budget reveal what it will cost Whistler to ready the site and make way for the Audain Art Museum — roughly $639,000.
A line item of $400,000 in the capital budget has been outlined as the cost to relocate the Village Shop on the museum's site — municipal village operations are based out of that shop, which will be relocated to the public works yard. That will require upgrades to the shop. The budget also includes miscellaneous costs associated with the clean up and modifications to the impound yard.
A second line item of $239,000 is for the costs dealing "with the location, ownership structure and other related matters" — $164,000 of those costs is for permit fees that will not be collected from the developer.
There will be a budget open house on Feb. 19 before the regular council meeting.
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