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RMOW hikes recreation user fees to counter rising costs

With current fee structure for Whistler’s recreational facilities expiring, new fees to be enforced Jan. 15
Drop-in rates at the Meadow Park Sports Centre, pictured, are about to see a slight increase.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is updating its parks and recreation fees and charges structure, with council supporting changes recommended by staff at the Nov. 21 council meeting.

In short, prices are going up as part of regularly scheduled rate increases intended so the municipality can “return an acceptable level of cost recovery” across its 11 facilities that incur user fees, while still encouraging community use. According to staff, increases are needed in order to counter increasing costs due to inflation, rising wages, and cost of operations.

In a presentation to council, the RMOW’s manager of recreation, Roger Weetman, said funding recreation services is a matter of balance, with the municipality currently running at what he said was a 50-per-cent cost recovery—meaning about half of the cost of recreational services are covered by user fees.

That 50 per cent needs to be maintained, though, which is only attainable in two ways, Weetman said: increasing subsidies from taxpayers, or increasing fees.

As for why prices are going up, Weetman called it a “death by a thousand cuts” from  increases across the board, such as the cost of pool chemicals rising by 30 per cent in the last two years.

The user fees in place are due for an update at the end of the year, with the new fees to be enforced from Jan. 15 next year.

Besides modest fee increases across the board, staff also recommended changes to the RMOW bylaw that governs the fee structures.

First up, there’s a slight fee increase at the Meadow Park Sports Centre (MPSC) from $9.25 to $10 for the adult drop-in rate, with the RMOW set to get rid of the early-bird and midday/midweek drop-in rates, which are both $7. According to staff documents, the early bird and midday/midweek rates were “underutilized,” meaning dropping in to use the MPSC on a one-time basis will cost $10 across the board if you’re an adult.

According to Weetman’s report to the RMOW’s Recreation Leisure Advisory Committee, which received the updated fee structures at its Sept. 14 meeting, part of the rationale for increasing drop-in rates was to minimize impact on local passholders.

Speaking of locals, multi-day passes are going up, with the 10-, 20- and 30-day passes increasing, respectively, by $5.35 to $85, $9.25 to $148, and $12.50 to $197.50. An adult monthly pass will cost $89.50, a three-month pass will cost $215, a six-month pass $359.75, and an annual pass will cost $610 under the new fee structure.

Over at the Lost Lake Nordic trails, an adult day ticket will increase from $24 in 2023, to $26 in 2024 and $27 in 2025, while an adult season pass will remain unchanged for 2024 but will rise to $351 in 2025 (from $336 now). Books of five- and 10-day passes will go up, too, while early-bird season passes will increase in 2025 to $283.50. “Extra early-bird” passes will be discontinued from the 2024-25 season onwards.

The Whistler Olympic Plaza Ice Rink is also due for an update, with staff recommending the municipality formalize and add a new fee structure for the rink to the new parks fees bylaw. Currently, use of the plaza is possible through a $2 admissions fee for everyone.

Under the new structure, children aged four to 12 can skate for $3, youth between 13 and 18 for $4, and adults for $5. In 2024-25, those rates will go up again, to $3.25, $4.50 and $5.50, respectively. According to the report, the Whistler Olympic Plaza Ice Rink is a primarily tourism-facing asset.

Indoor and outdoor facility rental rates are also going up by three per cent in 2024, and another three per cent in 2025.

“It is estimated that the revenue will increase due to the fee increases as well as more people using RMOW facilities,” reads the staff report, which added staff will monitor facility use following the fee increases in light of “ongoing operating cost pressures,” and will present more data to council in mid-2025, when the fees are due for another update.

Staff said that, under a conservative estimate, the fee increases will net an additional $291,943 in revenues across the MPSC, Lost Lake Trails, Whistler Olympic Plaza Ice Rink and facility rental over the next two years.

A suite of affordable options intended to ensure accessibility of all facilities remain on the table, including half-price access to the MPSC on Tuesday and Friday evenings, an MPSC spring pass promotion, and discounted pass sales on National Health and Fitness day. A full list of options are available to read in the staff report.

The fee changes were supported by the RMOW’s Recreation Leisure Advisory Committee, and on Nov. 21, Whistler’s mayor and council gave the associated bylaw first three readings, with adoption to follow at a later date.