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Money, money, money: Whistler reports higher-than-expected revenues for 2023

An extra $16 million in revenues will not translate to a tax break, however
A rebounding tourism sector generated healthy revenues for the RMOW in 2023.

It was a bumper year for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), with end-of-year financials confirming that, in 2023, tourism and the local economy were back in full swing. 

“To summarize 2023 is to say that the tourism economy was very strong, and was followed mid-year forward by a healthy local economy,” said the RMOW’s chief financial officer, Carlee Price, at the April 9 council meeting

Municipal hall generated $$125,393,061 in revenue for 2023 — nearly $16 million above what was budgeted for the year.

After several relatively lean post-pandemic years for tourism, Price said strong indicators for the sector came in the form of user fees, as well as revenue generated through the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) and the hotel tax (or MRDT) — which exceeded budget expectations by 11 and 30 per cent, respectively. Taken together, the RMI and MRDT streams generated a combined $22.3 million. User fees, which include parking, generated more than $15.5 million. 

“These are the two programs that are most sensitive to tourism volumes — so the fact that tourists were coming and staying overnight in hotels drives the MRDT higher, and the fact that day visitors were coming and skiing and enjoying the community affects parking revenues," she explained. 

Locally-facing amenities and programs were also generating high revenues, relayed Price, highlighting the Meadow Park Sports Centre and local transit, which she said was still recovering from 2022's strike action, but had, by year's end, even exceeded pre-COVID levels from 2019. 

“$16 million in unexpected revenue sounds like a great outcome," Price said. "Times are good and the RMOW is certainly benefiting.

“But, it is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of this excess revenue is constrained in some way.”

Some of those dollars, Price explained, helped cover higher expenses associated with an increase in the use of services, while much of the non-tax revenues were subject to conditions. RMI funds, for example, have to go to tourism-facing services. Day-skier parking revenue funds transit. Utility funds support themselves, while grant spending is controlled by the granting authority.

As such, Price said the benefits of the extra $16 million “may not be immediately visible, and may not directly benefit ratepayers in the way that they wish," namely, on their annual property taxes. 

“The question that naturally comes to mind is whether the 2023 strong revenue result means a big break on property taxes is coming," Price continued. "The answer to this question is no, but the community does stand to benefit in ways both big and small.”

Price explained that much of the funds were moving into reserves, which allows the RMOW to spend the extra windfall on future projects that would benefit the community down the line.

Price noted 2023 was the first year revenue could move from the MRDT stream into the RMOW’s Employee Housing Reserve, with $2.1 million earmarked for that fund — something that may not be repeated in future years due to fluctuating revenues, “but in 2023, it was certainly a win for the community,” she said.

Price added that 2023 was also a good year for project delivery.

“Project spending achieved 70 per cent of the budgeted amount — this is a very high level relative to some recent years,” she said. Some projects cited were the Rainbow Park upgrades, which are nearly complete, and the South Whistler Water supply project that is well underway.

High interest rates are also benefiting the RMOW, with investment income exceeding expectations. Price noted, however, that the Canadian economy was showing signs of cooling and a rate cut was expected.

Price’s full report to the RMOW council at the April 9 meeting can be watched on the municipal website. Her presentation begins at 31:14.