The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is doling out $1.162 million to local organizations in Fee For Service (FFS) agreements in 2022.
At its Feb. 22 meeting, Whistler council approved FFS agreements with five groups: Arts Whistler, for up to $520,000; Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) up to $100,071; Whistler Chamber of Commerce up to $97,929; and Whistler Museum and Archives Society up to the $195,000; while the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) will get up to $249,000.
The funding aims to help local organizations “provide programs and services that council considers necessary or desirable,” in terms of its targets, explained John Rae, the RMOW’s manager of cultural planning and development.
“All of these organizations provide real value to the community by delivering services. The WORCA number may seem like a particularly large number because people would probably not be aware of the extent of the work—it relieves the RMOW from having to deliver those services at likely a significantly greater cost.”
As a stipulation to the funding, each of the five organizations must also welcome an RMOW representative onto its board of directors and provide the municipality with ongoing status reports.
Funds are “parceled out on a quarterly basis subject to [the RMOW] being assured that performances are consistent with our expectations,” Rae reminded council.
This year’s figures are, for the most part, up from the 2021, when Whistler council approved a $500,000 agreement with Arts Whistler, $200,000 for WORCA; $150,000 for the Whistler Museum and Archives Society and $101,071 for WAG.
The Whistler Chamber of Commerce, however, saw its funding dip slightly, from $120,000 in 2021.
Chamber FFS funds to support Lil'wat employer pilot, mental health programming
The Chamber had applied for $222,000 in FFS funding to cover six different projects, including recruitment initiatives like a recruitment boot camp and job fair, a manager development forum, and customer service integration as part of a revamped Whistler Experience program.
In light of Whistler’s squeezed labour market, “those are ideas that we have that came out of conversations we’ve had with our members,” said Whistler Chamber CEO Melissa Pace.
At Tuesday’s meeting, mayor and council agreed to provide the organization with $20,000 to fund the Lil’wat Employer Program Pilot, plus $35,000 for Mental Health First Aid, a program created by the Canadian Mental Health Commission to help local businesses create safe workplaces for employees and allow managers to better identify mental health issues so that employees can seek the right treatment. The Chamber’s 2022 FFS agreement also allots $42,929 to help fund a range of recovery initiatives, with that portion of the agreement subject to review and approval by RMOW staff.
The other initiatives outlined in the Chamber’s FFS application all “have merit,” noted Rae, “but due to budgetary constraints … we’ll provide funding for a portion of each of the remaining programs.”
The RMOW’s FFS support for the Chamber is critical to supporting Whistler businesses, said Pace. “The funds that we receive through Fee For Service directly go back into the community,” she explained. “Some of the funds we use to support the HR piece and some of the [program] designing and those types of expenses, but the vast majority of the money actually goes back into the community.”
As number of trails climb, so does maintenance cost
WORCA’s 2022 FFS agreement isn’t just a significant bump up from the year prior: it represents a five-fold increase from the $50,000 the organization received annually from 2016 to 2018.
WORCA executive director Trevor Ferrao said the organization is pleased to see its 2022 FFS agreement accurately reflect the cost required to keep Whistler’s trail network in good working shape, given the rising amount of people who have flocked to Whistler’s trails since COVID-19 first hit.
“We’ve definitely seen a big increase in the number of people using the trails over the last couple of years,” explained Ferrao. “Pre-pandemic, there were already a lot of people on the trails and then 2020 we saw at least a 50-per-cent increase, just based on some stats, like Trailforks ride logs. Definitely, the numbers have been going up and up and obviously that just means more maintenance work required on the trails.”
Last year’s FFS agreement allowed WORCA to more than double the size of its trail crew and hire 10 seasonal employees dedicated to maintenance, Ferrao added. “In the past, it was only like three or four, possibly five people, so we doubled our trail crew size in order to do all of that work,” he explained.
While building new trails is also an important part of WORCA’s mandate—“that’s where a lot of our volunteer work [goes],” noted Ferrao—all FFS money must go towards trail maintenance. The majority will cover WORCA staff’s wages, while the remainder can be used to pay for related costs like equipment and insurance.
WORCA is currently working on two new trails in the Cheakamus area, while eagerly waiting for trail approvals from Recreation Sites and Trails BC, including for one that’s proposed to connect Into the Mystic with Function Junction.
But as Rae pointed out during Tuesday’s council meeting, WORCA and the RMOW both need to ensure that the pace of new trail development won’t contravene the FFS agreement’s sustainable renewal clause. The problem with new trails, said Rae, is “that we end up subsequently having to maintain [them] and that ends up becoming a larger amount on an annual basis. So we need to be mindful of that, and WORCA is very aware of that.”
‘We’ve learned the art of much faster decision making’
The $520,000 in FFS funding is critical for Arts Whistler—even if it’s not at quite the same level as the $656,569 the organization received in FFS funds prior to the pandemic, in 2018.
But considering that neither the municipality nor Arts Whistler is back to business as usual in terms of revenue flows, “that’s OK,” said executive director Mo Douglas.
“We’re all still making our way back and this is huge, that the municipality is still able to provide us this level of support. It’s essential to our functioning always, in good times and bad, but in really difficult times, not every municipality has been able to deliver.”
The RMOW’s “ability to deliver the funds to us in the last two years has meant we’ve been able to deliver more to the community than we ever thought would be possible when this thing first hit,” Douglas added.
Looking ahead to the coming months, Arts Whistler is eagerly anticipating the return of an in-person Children’s Festival and its annual Anonymous Art Show, as well as the popular Art on the Lake event that this year will be held over two days instead of one.
But given how quickly circumstances can change, as evidenced by the past two years, Arts Whistler is planning for contingencies like hosting events that can take place outdoors or that can accommodate small groups if need be.
“We’ve learned the art of much faster decision making,” said Douglas with a laugh.
“We’re making sure that every time we program something, essentially we have an alternative. We have a baseline of programs we can deliver no matter what; we can turn on a dime if we have to go virtual with some content if we needed to … We just need to be able to adjust. That’s how we’re planning—[there’s] Plan A and Plan B, and Plan B we can do almost in any condition.”
Arts Whistler’s FFS funding helps cover staff wages and benefits needed to operate the Maury Young Arts Centre, as well as the development and production of events, entertainment, and professional development programs for members of Whistler’s arts community.
The $100,071 offered to WAG will primarily fund the shelter’s staffing costs, while the $195,000 earmarked for the Whistler Museum will similarly help pay wages for its three full-time staff.
FFS funds are sourced from a combination of Municipal Regional District Tax (MRDT), Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds, and general tax revenue.
Previously, the FFS agreements came in the form of three-year deals with organizations—something that changed when funding was slashed during the pandemic. While this year’s funding agreements apply only to 2022 (the amount of MRDT revenue remains as uncertain as the pace of B.C.’s economic recovery from the pandemic, while the RMI program is connected to a three-year Resort Development Strategy agreement with the province and is slated for renewal next month).
The 2022 FFS agreements are pending the adoption of the RMOW’s five-year financial plan and 2022 budget, scheduled to take place this spring.