Second budget open house draws crowd 

As RMOW moves through budgetary process, staff moves to trim another $1.4 million from shortfall

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Record numbers of curious, concerned Whistler residents filled Spruce Grove Field House Monday evening for the Resort Municipality of Whistler's second 2011 budget and five-year-plan public open house.

To date, staff has been asked to examine ways to reduce a $2.8 million shortfall without raising property taxes beyond the four per cent forecasted. That increase is necessary to address general fund costs in 2011, which include a contractual labour cost increase of $800,000 for all municipal staff.

The open house revealed that after three rounds of cuts the deficit has been reduced to half of its original size. The most recent cuts reduced contingency budgets by $126,000, trimmed park and village maintenance costs by $30,000, and saw $50,0000 worth of RMOW administration positions eliminated. Refinement of transit property administration costs and recalculation of the Squamish-Whistler Commuter figures saved another $200,000. And by delaying the repayment of capital related to the debris barrier and parking lots the municipality will save another $983,000.

"We've heard loud and clear from the community that they want the RMOW to find efficiencies and cut costs. It's a given. We knew that going in, before any survey, which is why we set to work immediately cutting costs, before the survey even started," said RMOW's general manager of economic viability, Lisa Landry.

"That's why we cut $674,000 in costs right out of the gate, and we continue on. Since then we've identified another $412,000 in cost cutting which will not impact taxes or service levels and deferred a further $938,000 in costs."

Now looking at a $1.4 million shortfall, staff is going to have to get creative to maintain services going into its fourth round of cuts. Landry said the RMOW is fast approaching the inevitable point at which it will become financially impossible to further reduce the shortfall without impacting service levels or raising taxes.

To identify which is preferable to the public - service reductions or tax increases - the municipality asked residents to indicate their druthers in a randomly selected, computer-assisted telephone survey of 500 residents and second homeowners, on display at the open house. Three-hundred permanent residents and 200 second homeowners were surveyed between Nov. 18 and 30. Results show that 57 per cent of locals accept some property tax increases. That's compared to 64 per cent of second homeowners who said they would be OK with further hikes.

Sixty-one per cent of residents indicated they were very satisfied with Whistler as a place to live, and 28 per cent said they were somewhat satisfied, creating an overall satisfaction rate of 89 per cent, down from 90 per cent in 2009.

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