Most of us can quantify how the pandemic has hit us in a personal sense.
There have been hard tangible impacts such as job losses, but there have also been impacts to our emotional intelligence that we may not know the full shock of for months and years to come.
Since March, we have ridden a roller coaster hoping that the end of this pandemic is just around the corner, or a vaccine is on the horizon (and this is looking a bit more hopeful now), but the ride is continuing and we cannot escape the costs of it.
That became apparent on a municipal level this week as residents had a chance to consider the proposed municipal budget plans for 2021.
At an open house held virtually on Nov. 16, there was no hiding from how the pandemic will impact our bottom line, as municipal staff told us that we took at least a $5.4-million dollar hit thanks to a drop in tourism and other non-tax impacts.
Back in May, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) pivoted in reaction to what they suspected might be ahead and cut the proposed budget $12.7 million by scrapping projects or changing their scope. Now, these many months later and with COVID-19 still impacting us, the 2021 budget is a reflection of that.
It should be noted that at that time, the municipality was projecting that the non-tax losses might be as much as $11 million.
And as virus cases surge in B.C., and Whistler faces a mini-lockdown in our health region, there is grave concern for the resort just days away from Whistler Blackcomb’s opening day.
The damage potential comes on two fronts: People won’t travel here due to regional restrictions, and, as more and more residents get the virus and are unable to work for up to two weeks, Whistler businesses will be hammered from a staffing perspective.
We also know that above all the resort needs to send a message of transparency and trust to those whom we hope will come here this winter season.
Travellers must know that we are facing the pandemic head-on with measures on every front to tackle it and keep them, as well as all who call Whistler home, as safe as we can. People must know that every business is following protocols from the provincial health officer and that frontline staff (and those in the back, too) is on board with the health measures.
Under the surface, meanwhile, the job of running the resort must continue and as part of this, staff is recommending a 4.89-per-cent increase in property taxes in 2021, significantly larger than the 2.8 per cent we saw for this year and the 2.9 in 2019.
However, it is likely it might have been much larger if Whistler’s reserves were not being called upon to help pay for budget items and shore up needed spending.
It may seem a small detail but the water pipes, sewer system—all the nuts and bolts of running this resort, which in a normal year sees more than 3 million visitors— depend on upgrades funded out of the reserves, so maintaining a tight handle on them is absolutely necessary for the long-term health of the community.
There are scores of projects in the proposed budget—take the time to look for yourself at www.whistler.ca/budgetopenhouse.
There are big-ticket items such as the proposed spending on new employee-restricted housing, the public washrooms and the EV charging system, but there are also smaller items such as the tennis court reconstruction ($20,000), the upgrades to kennels at WAG ($90,000), and upgrades to the bus shelters.
Many of us use the shelters while travelling and though in recent years they appear to have been targeted less frequently by vandals, the upgrade will feature less glass. There are also proposed new shelters in Emerald with an eye to expanding services—that’s good news.
Everyone is focused on COVID-19 and its impacts right now, but our town’s budget is a cornerstone document and deserves consideration by all.
Take the time to consider it and give your feedback.