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Opinion: Free beer at Whistler’s next budget open house!(?)

'Put the coffee on, ‘ma—we got some complainin’ to do'
Is this an accurate representation of a budget open house in Whistler? No. No it is not. But that shouldn't stop you from attending!

Like most communities, Whistler has a long and robust history of complaining.

We like to complain about the weather, and the lack of snow. We whinge about traffic, and housing, and the noise from nearby construction.

We complain about projects big and small launched by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and how they impact our lives in (mostly) minor ways.

We look around at all of our various inconveniences, and wonder softly and smugly why everyone is so stupid and lacking in simple common sense but us.

As a prolific complainer myself, I don’t state these things as a means of judgment. Complaining about things is a normal part of existing in any society—unless you’re somehow living in one of those fancy utopias I’ve heard so much about—and it’s often the only way to get some grease on your squeaky wheel of choice.

But if you’re the type to fire off your complaints from a place of uninformed ignorance, without bothering to do any research or get involved in any way, well after it could possibly make any difference, I’m sorry—your complaints are just wasting everyone’s time.

Having paid close attention to nearly a decade’s worth of RMOW budget cycles, we can identify patterns in the process that seem to play out in some form or fashion nearly every year.

It goes like this: The RMOW seeks input from the community on its annual budget beginning in the late summer/early fall. A draft budget is presented at an open house in October or November, complete with a full list of planned projects for this year and the years ahead, where attendees (of which there are always very few) can discuss specific projects at length with council and staff. The budget guidelines are then drawn up based on all this feedback, and presented to council in the new year. The budget bylaws are passed in the early spring.

Then, long after the budget is approved, some random community member(s) will raise a giant stink about one or more projects they feel they weren’t properly consulted on.

“You’re going to do what to Rainbow Park?! You’re going to build a bathroom where?! You’re spending how much on an upgrade to municipal hall?!” they say (probably).

“But this simply cannot be… for Mayor Jack Crompton did not come knock on my door and tell me this was the plan. Shenanigans!”

In almost every single instance of this happening, the fault cannot be laid squarely at the feet of the RMOW.

The simple fact is if you’re engaged, informed, and paying even moderate attention, there should be no real surprises in municipal policy or projects (mostly… plans do change throughout the year, and new opportunities arise. But the broad strokes are always painted in September through November).

Sadly, the percentage of the local populace who are actively engaged in municipal comings and goings could generously be estimated at about 10 per cent (but likely much less—see also, “The Loneliest Job in Whistler,” Pique, Sept. 29, 2022).

But here’s the good news: with the RMOW’s pre-budget survey now live at until Sept. 25 at midnight, we are right at the beginning of a new decision cycle.

In other words, put the coffee on, ‘ma—we got some complainin’ to do.

“Each fall, the RMOW prepares its annual and five-year budgets to manage day-to-day services, operations, projects, and infrastructure investments,” the RMOW said on its website.

“Public input is an important component to developing the budget, as it helps the RMOW to understand community priorities, needs and aspirations.”

Here’s how you can be a part of the 2024 Budget process, according to the RMOW: know the Budget 2024 key dates; browse through the RMOW’s related documents and plans; help shape the early stages of the budget by taking the survey; attend the Budget Open House later this fall; and watch for updates as the process rolls out.

The RMOW’s budget survey only takes about 10 minutes to complete, but it gives residents a sense of all the competing interests at play—respondents are asked to prioritize everything from road clearing and infrastructure to active transportation, festivals, climate action and more.

You can also provide reasoning for your priorities, and share thoughts on Whistler’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

The RMOW’s pre-budget survey is a bit like a waiter asking you for your dietary restrictions. It’s not helpful to inform them you’re vegan/celiac/lactose intolerant/a picky eater as they’re serving you the dish. Nobody appreciates the dinner guest who sits down at the lavishly prepared spread only to complain that the chef didn’t incorporate their preferred brand of soy sauce.

So if you really want to influence your municipal government, this is the time to do it.

This isn’t to say the end result will include your entire wishlist, or come off as a perfect reflection of your priorities and desires. You are not the only resident filling out the survey, after all.

But nearly everything the RMOW does as an organization originates from the budget process—if you read nothing, and say nothing, it’s a bit rich to get mad months down the line when you realize your voice isn’t reflected in municipal planning.

So, what’s it going to take to get you in the door for this fall’s open house? Free beer? A one-time cash payout? A chance to throw rotten fruit at our elected officials? (If you’re in need of one more consultant, RMOW—and evidence suggests you always are—there are plenty more great engagement ideas where those came from).

Last year, the RMOW implemented an 8.4-per-cent increase to property taxes, along with increases of three per cent for water, four per cent for solid waste, and five per cent for sewer fees and taxes.

We won’t see this year’s proposed tax changes until the open house in the fall, but odds are we’re in for another increase in that eight-per-cent range—or higher.

Let’s be real: One survey respondent or open-house attendee isn’t going to change the entire philosophy of the budget. But if you really want to do some next-level complaining, delivered in a timely fashion and backed up with hard-hitting facts and figures, you really should take the time to inform yourself.

Will there be free beer at this year’s budget open house? Probably not. But maybe!

You won’t know for sure unless you go see for yourself.