Whistler Sport Legacies isn't trying to "bleed the community" dry by skipping out on its property taxes.
Rather, it is a community partner with a significant role to play in Whistler, shepherding the 2010 Olympic legacy venues into the future. That's how it sees itself — as a non-profit organization set to become a leader in the growth of sport within the next five years, an organization charged with the higher ideals of wellness, of building good citizens through sport, an organization that brings something to the table in Whistler.
"We're not some outside agency that's milking the town," said WSL president and CEO Keith Bennett on the eve of council's consideration of property tax exemption bylaws.
As it has for the past five years, council approved the exemptions after dilly-dallying on the issue for the past two months. Also given exemptions were the Whistler Children's Centre, Whistler Mountain Ski Club, Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church, Whistler Community Services Society and the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
Council had been scheduled to consider the bylaw exemptions in August but removed the report from the agenda at the last minute to buy time to more fully understand the issue.
Since then council has met with WSL reps in a closed meeting — closed to the public explained municipal administrator Mike Furey because "it related to the partnership relationship with the provincial government in terms of the funding that they receive and the funding that we receive."
Tuesday's unanimous decision means WSL is "off the hook" for more than half a million dollars, taxes it has never paid, and never really expected to pay just as sliding venues in Lake Placid and Utah also get tax breaks, and the Richmond Oval too.
"I'm not a huge fan for tax holidays for many organizations, if any," said Councillor Jayson Faulkner.
"The truth of it is, it is a legacy."
Having to pay property taxes would be "realistically putting us at risk," Bennett explained to the
The sliding centre's revenues in 2011 were $578,000 while its expenses were $2.7 million.
The WSL is not propped up with any municipal help. Rather, it is funded from an endowment fund and with provincial money to make ends meet in these start-up years.
"I think that we really want to continue to capitalize... on the opportunity that the Olympics has given the community," said Councillor Jack Crompton.
"I'm glad that it's not a drain on us financially."
The taxes alone on the Whistler Sliding Centre — which cost $109 million to construct but is now valued at around $29 million — are more than $500,000, while the High Performance Centre and Lodge are slated at more than $36,000 and the neighbouring athletes' accommodation is more than $24,000.
"The perception in the community is that there's a large gift here," said Councillor John Grills.
But as several council members pointed out, the assessed value of the centre at $29 million doesn't hold much weight. How do you put a value on that facility?
"You could argue it has no value," said Councillor Duane Jackson. "The tax on zero value is (nothing)."
Among other things council heard that the WSL employs 26 permanent staff and 124 seasonal — a payroll of wages and benefits in the $3 million range.
The track itself is considered "a game changer for Canadian athletes" who are looking to podium in the sliding sports, said Bennett.
It's also putting Whistler on the map in some key target areas like Germany. Last year at the bobsleigh world championships, 45 million viewers watched sliders take on one of the fastest and most challenging tracks in the world.
"We think we really add some diversity in the community," said Bennett.
Councillor Roger McCarthy said it's difficult to find things to differentiate ski resorts. A multi-million dollar sliding track in Whistler does just that and as such, Whistler needs to do a better job supporting and promoting the asset.
"Nothing would look sadder...than those things covered in cobwebs ten years from now."
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