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Tracking the Resort Municipality Initiative funds in Whistler’s 2021 budget

Here’s how provincial tourism funds will be spent this year
n-RMI(by-clare-ogilvie)
One of Whistler’s biggest Resort Municipality Initiative spends in 2021 will be $2.97 for two washroom buildings in Whistler Village. File photo by Clare Ogilvie

While a pair of projects will make up more than 50 per cent of the total 2021 spend, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is hoping to make the most of its provincial Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding this year.

All told, the RMOW proposes to spend $7,598,830 in RMI money in 2021.

While some bemoan the state of their personal finances in light of COVID-19—and a planned municipal tax increase of 1.08 per cent—resort initiative money is specifically earmarked for tourism, and can’t be used to alleviate personal tax burdens.

So too for Municipal and Regional District (MRDT—commonly referred to as the hotel tax) funds.

“In both cases, these are programs that flow through to the municipality from an original source of the hotel tax, which is applied against hotel night stays in the Whistler area,” said director of finance Carlee Price, in a presentation at the Dec. 15 council meeting. 

“Spending of these funds is approved by the province; annually in the case of MRDT and every three years in the case of RMI. This is money that the municipality is meant to spend. The reserve balance for both of these funds should not be large.”

With that in mind, the resort municipality’s 2021-2025 project plan includes $17.1 million in planned RMI spending, including $6.3 million on parks, $3 million on washrooms, $2.8 million on the Valley Trail and $900,000 on other trail works.

“This is how it has been decided between the municipality and the province that these funds are best allocated,” Price said.

“Neither RMI nor MRDT project spends affect taxes, so this is a completely separate fund … and there is no commingling between these two buckets of money.”

Further, funds must be spent on tourist-based amenities, “so the village and park washrooms, for example, cannot be replaced with a project at Meadow Park,” Price added. 

The two biggest spends on tap for 2021 are $2.97 million for the aforementioned village washrooms—a scaled-back version from the one initially proposed last November—and $2.42 million for a rejuvenation of Rainbow Park.

In the case of Rainbow Park, it was constructed some 30 years ago and requires reinvestment, according to the resort municipality.

Potential enhancements include improved waterfront access, watercraft launch and storage facilities, expansion of the special events area, enhancements to the heritage structures and surrounding area, reconstructed irrigation/drainage systems, connection of washrooms to municipal sanitary services, Valley Trail connection to Alta Lake Rd., and parking-lot modifications to address safety and conflicts.

Since 2006, the RMI program has doled out more than $140 million in funding to 14 resort communities in B.C.

In its 2019 budget, the provincial government committed $39 million to the program over three years.

With COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc on the tourism industry, it’s unclear exactly what form provincial tourism support will take going forward.

Nevertheless, the RMOW’s 2021-2025 five-year financial plan includes possible Resort Municipality Initiative investments for the coming years.

Looking further afield, the biggest potential RMI spends on the books include master planning for the Parkhurst lands ($1,040,000 from 2023 to 2025); a rejuvenation of Meadow Park ($2.3 million in 2023); and development of a Sea to Sky Geopark ($360,043 from 2022 to 2025).