Reduce; don't grow
I am prompted to write after reading the Bruce Thom letter published in the Dec. 16 Pique that offers practical non-life threatening solutions to the municipality's 2011 deficit and then reading the lead article in Pique 's community news section quoting Whistler's economic development officer regarding action to date to alleviate the deficit and the plan going forward.
Thom flags tested solutions to civic deficits and in contrast the offered solutions by the hall to deal with the deficit are inconsequential in dollar amount and the downsizing of the municipal government doesn't even get honourable mention. The difference in the approaches is very telling. In my opinion, if there is to be any credibility in the deficit exercise, the civic managers need to look inside both their 2011 budgets and the apparent iron-clad employment contracts to find the dollars needed to eliminate the deficit. Go there first and hurry seems to be the message coming from the taxpayers. The wrist ringing by the civic decision-makers regarding a meaningful contraction in services and employment levels needs to be set aside in favour of a solid internal approach to cost savings supported by a well-thought out, all-encompassing action plan.
Civic Whistler needs to be financially self-policing because it has a duty of responsibility to all of us who call Whistler home. The 2011 deficit is a small outward sign of how the mandate to provide required services to the residents is way offside with non-essential civic generated initiatives. To forge ahead with the suggested plan to collect the deficit in lieu of a plan to reduce costs is not valid and therefore not sustainable.
The size of Whistler's civic domain has been allowed to grow over the past 15 years mainly because it was marching along with the growth in the private sector and of course the build up to the big show, a well-remembered and enjoyed part of Whistler's history. However, the civic government is now being asked by a growing number of Whistler supporters to re-tool the hall to meet the new economies of scale accruing to Whistler. There is no magic in that statement and like it or not or believe it or not the reasons and need for this change are clear.
The six to eight month outlook for the economy is uncertain. This uncertainty particularly affects Whistler with a Canadian dollar at par with the US dollar, predictions of increasing interest rates and fewer European tourists. Those challenged by these predictions are travelers, real estate investors, businesses and homebuyers to the area. Given these negative events do occur as predicted, it will impact all of us who call Whistler home. The notion that those with taxing authority will ignore these facts and rely heavily on collection from the residents to reduce the deficit rather than reducing the cost of operations should have consequences.
Regrettably, to date the message coming from that arena is not a good one. The culture that promoted growth at the hall because Whistler was unique, combined with unchallenged budget exercises, are the culprits and there is no blame attached for that. However, management, private or public sector, is hired to make tough decisions and the time for tough decisions is staring management in the face.
Whistler claims uniqueness as a destination resort but there is nothing unique in being responsible to residents, non-residents, business owners and visitors alike. Deficit reduction, not collection.
The Opium Theory
I know you are thinking that this has something to do with drugs. You are wrong. The O.P.M. theory stands for "Other People's Money." This is what the municipality spends to run the resort.
At the last budget meeting the municipal management showed no interest in changing the direction of how they are handling our money. It is with blatant disregard that they conduct themselves. They operate like a bunch of political gangsters and extort more and more money from us each year after year and refuse to be accountable.
That was best exemplified by one municipal manager's answer regarding the pay parking fiasco. I said to him that the lots were empty and he denied that. So I said they were virtually empty and he once again denied that as well. If everything is so good then why is the municipality short millions of dollars? Everyone in this town also knows that the lots are virtually empty even during our busiest season of the year, Christmas.
There is an old expression within the best sales teams of the world and that is, "Don't expect different results if you keep doing the same thing." It is long overdue and time to slash the prices for parking and let the lots get filled. As the economy improves and people are accustomed to the charge the rates can climb slowly in years to come. 100 per cent of nothing is still nothing and 100 per cent of something would be a giant step forward.
Everyone in this town knows that they screwed up, so they should just face the truth and fix the problem now. As long as the municipal hall reeks with nepotism there is no hope for any improvement. Stop the war on our visitors' pocket books because they clearly cannot afford the practice of the Opium Theory here in Whistler.
A modest proposal
Re: RMOW Budgets
Boy, the Finance Department and the Administrator at the Resort Municipality of Whistler seemed to be completely stumped on how to make up the "shortfall" between revenues and their proposed spending. These people have been out of the real business world for so long they just cannot seem to grasp the thought of spending equal to revenues. They have been fed at the trough of the developers for so long and they have entrenched such a large bureaucracy at the municipal hall that they no longer speak to us normal taxpayers and citizens as they are off in their own "entitled world." We have had tax hike after tax hike ( 21.5 per cent in four years) and the citizens are getting extremely angry and upset at the lack of fiscal responsibility shown by the mayor and council and particularly the managers at city hall who feel entitled to whatever they want.
The first idea is that since so little development is going on now, why do we still have the huge planning, development and building inspection departments? Secondly, since we are not growing, why do we keep building new trails and new things in all of the parks? I am completely happy with the facilities and services we have and do not expect or need more. JUST STOP SPENDING!
In last week's paper Jim Kennedy stated that the current payroll is $26 million and the municipal deficit has been "reduced" to just $1.4 million. Jimbo recommended that staff at muni hall agree to a five per cent pay rollback to save a further $1.3 million. While I have two minds to that, I am sure that the people who anticipate a four per cent increase every year (so that their salary doubles every 15 years by the way), would not even consider a wage freeze much less a rollback.
Here is another thought, I am not sure how many citizens realize it but our municipal staff actually don't work full time even though they are paid full time plus incredible benefits. Our municipal workers are somehow "entitled" to only work 36 hours per week. Sort of like the French government tried based on some crazy theory that that policy would make more jobs.
So, my modest proposal is that our municipal workers start working a 40-hour week at minimum, for the full time pay and benefits they are already receiving. What a concept. Work 40 hours per week. This in theory should give us a 10 per cent productivity improvement and save us $2.6 million per year. It is about time our municipal employees share at least some realities of the world with the rest of the workers and taxpayers in Whistler.
2010 Year in Review
This year was one of extreme highs and lows. The good news is that the highs greatly overshadowed the low points, which can be resolved over time.
You have to feel a little sorry for the naysayers. Virtually none of their predictions came true - with a few exceptions - no wasted money, no debt, minimal environmental impacts, no disenfranchised, and no protests after the early fiasco in Vancouver.
We must find ways to celebrate this success as often as we can. Against a backdrop of unease about the global economy, it serves us well to keep our spirits high and remember our capacity to accomplish great deeds.
The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games rocked. As the Host Mountain Resort, it was Whistler at its best. It was a role we defined and then lived. We realized the dreams of the town fathers, and the experience becomes the defining event encapsulating our success to date.
The list of successes and legacies is too long to list, but, ultimately, the true test of the Games is the platform that has been built to face the future. We are well-positioned internationally; relationships are stronger than ever within the resort and with our external partners. We can go forward with heads held high, meeting the future together.
The staff at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) are amazing, and possibly the most under-recognized contributors to the resort's success. From the top guy, to the people out on the grounds, they are a proud hard-working team committed to this community.
Our Chief Administrative Officer, Mr. Bill Barratt, deserves a huge thanks and enormous credit. He has guided the senior management team in building an award-winning corporate culture, a hard-working highly motivated staff, and a collaborative relationship with the resort partners.
The achievements that have been completed out of the hall are significant, and continue to show innovative and creative approaches to community building that are the envy of our competitors and peer communities. They quietly work behind the scenes meeting challenges head-on, making the difficult look easy.
Although many projects are multi-year, much has happened in 2010. To name a few, a merger of the Whistler Arts Council and Maurice Young Millennium Place Societies was facilitated, Whistler Olympic Plaza is nearly ready for its next phase, and a money saving energy retrofit was completed at Meadow Park Sports Centre.
This year's major events were the best ever, bolstered by the newest success, the Gran Fondo. Although the RMOW is never the lead, our staff provide critical support to ensure success for event promoters.
This year Whistler accessed approximately $10 million in hotel taxes, much of it used toward Games success, the athletes' village, and resort promotion. We received about $90 million in leveraged direct Games contributions and hundreds of millions more in built infrastructure, global marketing and capacity building.
Congratulations have to go out to all of the event organizers in Whistler. Every year they manage to grow, driving business to the resort and creating lasting memories for our guests and residents.
Generally, although resort business has not recovered from previous highs, we continue to perform well and to outperform our competitors.
After decades of housing shortages and unmet demand to house the staff, who make the resort operation possible, we turned the corner in 2010. With approximately 6,000 beds in the resident housing inventory, we have a strong edge in maintaining a diverse and vibrant community.
All in all, it has been a very memorable year.
Finally I want to thank and acknowledge your council. They have served the community well, gregariously engaging at every opportunity, listening to your input and taking appropriate action. Their work has not been easy and they have faced the challenges head-on.
Please remember our good fortune and consider those less fortunate. On behalf of all of council, we wish everyone a very happy holiday, love and good spirits, and bright and prosperous New Year.
Ken Melamed, Mayor
Resort Municipality of Whistler
You could look it up
I read with great amusement Councillor Eckhard Zeidler's jests about the funding of public libraries. Especially memorable is the phrase "as a library, there is an expectation that libraries are funded solely by the taxpayer. I'd like to know why that is."
His sarcasm is evident in his claim that other public libraries across North America are public only in name. If only costly public institutions and services were public only in name! Among other ridiculous results, it would mean our public servants' work (including councillors') would be funded only by their own commercial undertakings, and perhaps by donations.
To put these comical comments in context, we could take a quick peek at the interesting history of public libraries. In 367 BCE (hint: that's a long time ago), the great Library of Alexandria was initiated by a generously-funded royal mandate (hint: that means tax dollars).
More locally and recently, the industrialist-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie swept North America on a mission that would benefit millions. Between 1900 and 1917 he built almost 1,700 libraries across North America in exchange for guarantees by local governments that they would be run by tax dollars. His initiative included the construction of the original Vancouver Public Library in 1901.
Who doesn't know that almost every town and city across North America has an institution that is different than a charity or a bookstore, where you can access information without a fee, and which is impartial and publicly funded? If this really is shocking and new information to anyone who is old enough to be reading this newspaper, I would suggest making a beeline to find some information about it at your local public library.
Travel delays and repercussions
With reference to the article "London snow affecting Whistler travel" ( Pique , Dec. 23), as someone affected by the recent disruption of travel from London Heathrow I would like to make a few observations.
Firstly, the disruption for us started on Dec. 17 after a mere one centimetre of snow. Our flight was cancelled because the plane could not be de-iced before the crew ran out of flight time. This affected a large number of other flights as well. Cause: insufficient de-icing capacity, although pretty much all flights within the U.K. were cancelled due to severe weather in other parts of the country.
All B.A. flights were then cancelled on Dec. 18, even before the snow fell, because the airport could not cope with the luggage left from the day before.
We were very fortunate to be able to rebook and finally arrived in Vancouver on the 21st. Only to have two bags go missing - we had not seen our luggage since it was checked in for the flight on the 17th.
Many people have been unable to re-book flights until after the Christmas period. This includes those who would normally be travelling from other airports in Scotland, Ireland and other parts of the UK We are lucky enough to own a property in Whistler and my husband has had four friends staying with him. All have had severe difficulties returning back to the UK. One was only able to get a flight back today, Christmas Eve, when he should have left on Saturday the 18th.
These events have been frankly traumatic, especially for those like ourselves who were totally abandoned by our airlines during the disruption. Many others have shared probable, negative effects. One of the chief results may well be that people will in future avoid travelling during the build up to the Christmas period because of the risk of disruption caused by bad weather and the U.K. airports and airlines inability to deal with it. Many people will be unable to extend holidays either due to work commitments or because their children have to return to school in early January.
In addition, due to B.A.'s website and telephone lines being completely overwhelmed during the disruption, many have been just unable to re-book their flights. Of course we Brits will travel if we can but frankly the sheer volume of people involved this time means that a number will not now be flying out for a holiday in Whistler this Christmas.
One final point: I am still waiting for one piece of luggage containing my skis to appear, so one positive result for the ski-rental companies here.
Whistler Film Festival clarifies
On behalf of the Whistler Film Festival Society, I am writing to clarify some comments in Stephen Smysnuik's article last week (WFF risks losing momentum if theatre upgrade posted).
First, the RMOW, not WFFS, applied for $1.1 million in eligible and reimbursable expenses to Canadian Heritage's Cultural Space Fund to support the Rainbow Theatre upgrade project. If this application is not successful, WFFS will have to address the $1.5 million gap (not $1.7 million as stated).
Second, we maintain that our vision for the Whistler Film Festival is to be "one of the top and most important film festivals in the world" and not "one of the biggest," which is impossible as we are not located in a major urban centre like Toronto.
Third, WFFS is grateful for Tourism Whistler's support of the Rainbow Theatre upgrade project and we have never expected to receive any funding support for the project from the organization. Our programming plan has the new theatre operating up to 264 days per year (versus the 20 days per year it currently operates now) and being self-sufficient based on its own revenue.
Shauna Hardy Mishaw
Whistler Film Festival Society
Misled by council
Early in my childhood I learned an important difference among phrases "I cannot," "I will not" and "I don't want to." Where "don't want to" or "will not" could get me into trouble, "I can't" sometimes worked very well as an excuse. This was reinforced when I had to serve my time in the army. One did not say, "I will not" or "I do not want to." You would end up in a brig. However, "I can't" worked sometimes.
It seems our mayor Ken had similar experience. By saying that he, council and RMOW "cannot" do something they are absolved from any responsibility, debate and criticism. Just say "we cannot" and any further debate is just waste of time. The most glaring example of this has been the annual budget question about salary increases of RMOW employees and management. In the past the mayor simply stated that RMOW has a contract with employees and nothing can be done to change that. The debate was over. This year, in the deepest economic recession with falling tourist revenues and many struggling businesses, more and more Whistler taxpayers are disgusted with paying higher taxes to fuel these obscene year-on-year wage increases. So, more questions were raised.
First we learned that only a small proportion of RMOW staff is unionized and actually have a contract. We then learned that there is an "employee handbook" which contains a policy to set wage increases for all other RMOW employees according to the contract with the small union. This was to represent a contract that council said it "could not" change.
During the last public question period I finally managed to get an answer from the council that basically the council "can do anything" it wants, but considering the repercussions it decided not to deal with this issue. This is very clearly "we will not" and not "we cannot!"
If the mayor had said upfront, "Council CAN change the policy/contract, however for these reasons we choose not to" I would have still disagreed but I would have respect him and his position. By saying "we cannot" he was trying to avoid the responsibility and criticism, he obfuscated the issue and misled us. For that we should have no respect.
There may have been an extenuating circumstance. Last Tuesday morning I went to the post office to send a computer to my niece. I chose the time to avoid the noon crowd but when I arrived there was a lineup outside because a fire alarm had cleared the building. I waited in my van. As soon as the post office reopened I joined the line just inside the doors and waited some more. I don't have to wait at the post office very often but if I do, I deal with it by slowing down to the pace around me. So I was already processing life more slowly than usual when, as I was leaving, I noticed a long time acquaintance who always gives me a super slow motion moment.
Consequently, I could have backed out of my parking space and driven to the Lorimer exit more slowly than I normally do; and I could have been dreaming when I was awakened by a horn blast just as I was about to veer into the left turn lane. While I was stopped at the light the honker, a fellow driving a Chateau bus, pulled up beside me and rolled down his window. Thinking he wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas I rolled down mine. Instead he said, "You can't pull out and travel along at 20 km/h." I explained I was only going a hundred feet before turning but it seemed I hadn't justified my apparent dawdling because he then asked, "Do you travel 20 km/h all over Whistler?" Since we were still waiting for the light to change I had time to suggest he couldn't be going anywhere, to which he replied, "I could have been." And that is when I responded with the "H" word.
I immediately regretted saying it but before I could apologize the light turned and he was gone "like a bat out of hell." By then my mind was racing just as fast. I decided to write a letter to apologize for making a tiny bit of life in Whistler unpleasant. Unfortunately my apology will do little to diminish the unpleasantness that pervaded Whistler this past year. That was "some bad," most of it due to the dominant human motivation of making money. I wonder if this year we will begin changing our motivation to making life - allowing Whistler and by extension her Mother Earth to once again become, as Michel Beaudry wrote a few weeks ago, "true to (herself)." I will try to live so I don't have to apologize, and hope for a Happier New Year.
Better late than never...
...cole La Passerelle had our annual Holiday Concert and Dinner on Dec. 13. A lot of time and effort from the students, parents, teachers and staff went into making this year's Concert and Holiday Dinner the best ever! Heartfelt thanks to Chef Vincent Stufano and Amanda Kirkham for contributing their talent and time in creating a delicious dinner that was shared by 180 friends, family and students! Also, a special thanks to Francie Baron for her help and constant smile!
Milles mercis d'être l'auteur de notre table communautaire.
APE La Passerelle
BRATZ BIZ 5 TH artisan market better than ever!
With an increased number of shoppers, an outstanding lineup of entertainment and a top quality artisan market BRATZ BIZ continues to amaze! Co-founders Laslett and Shrimpton still wrestle with the public's perception that craft fair items created by kids aren't worth the trip. Once you've been to BRATZ BIZ, you'll be coming back every year. The quality of crafts Whistler and Pemberton youth are producing is very high. This year's event saw a record number of vendors selling out early in the day. The public likes the warm country Christmas atmosphere. Community support was evident by not only the number of attendees, but also by the thoughtful feedback Laslett and Shrimpton received throughout the day.
BRATZ BIZ is organized by two Whistler moms who have been working with Whistler's crafty kids since 2006 to help young artisans learn the business side of marketing arts and crafts. With this support, young artisans are enabled and empowered to take individual projects to a whole new level. Each prospective artisan begins by meeting with a jury to discuss whether their product is saleable or not. If it is not, the jury works with the artisan to modify, redesign, or in some cases, begin again. 2010 jurors Vincent Massey, Janet Pashleigh and Michelle Kirkegaard were new to BRATZ BIZ and found some of the entries very difficult to evaluate. You don't want to hurt kids' feelings, so finding a way to re-invent something that is not saleable can be a very creative challenge.
Laslett and Shrimpton are looking for local businesses to support their ongoing project. Operating costs for BRATZ BIZ are paid for by the generosity of business owners who believe that what BRATZ BIZ teaches are important life lessons for our youth. Major sponsors for 2010 were: Nesters Market, The Whistler Grocery Store, Whistler's Creekside Market, Walsh Restorations, O'Mara Construction Management, Thornhill Real Estate Group, Local Automotive, Carney's Waste Systems, Corona Excavations, Mountainberry Landscaping, Southerncross Construction, Stonebridge Marketing, TKT Contracting and Windsor Plywood.
In addition, in-kind donations of goods and services help to reduce overhead and raise funds through draw prizes at the event. BRATZ BIZ would like to acknowledge LIGHTMAKER for the development of a new web site www.bratzbiz.ca .
Without volunteer support, BRATZ BIZ would not be manageable for its co-founders. Thank you to every volunteer for your support and precious time! If anyone is interested in learning more about BRATZ BIZ, becoming a volunteer, sponsor or perhaps a first director, please contact Laslett or Shrimpton by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org . Thank you to the community for continuing to support BRATZ BIZ and for the generous donations which will help to put a few extra bags of groceries in the arms of those waiting at Whistler's Food Bank this holiday season.
A treasured tradition
Thank you to everyone who came out and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at the Whistler Waldorf School Christmas Fair on Dec. 11. It is hard to believe that it has been over 10 years since we held the first one and so heartwarming to hear how it has become such a treasured holiday tradition within the community.
Thank you to Nesters Market and Aphrodite's Organic Café and Pie Shop for supplying all the yummy hot lunch supplies, to Whistler Roasting Company for keeping the lattes flowing, and to all of the dedicated volunteers who helped the children create their beautiful handmade gifts for their friends and families.
Whishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
On behalf of the Whistler Waldorf School
No joy in lot 4
I was radiating joy as I rode the bus through a snowy village this morning. I'd had a great night the evening before, enjoying a few Christmas beverages with visiting friends. Although I'd only had three drinks over several hours, knowing the new driving restrictions, I decided to be responsible and leave my car safely parked in lot 4.
Just after 9 a.m. I arrived in the village and headed to my vehicle. Merrily dusting the newly fallen snow off my car I noticed an indentation on my windshield and there it was: A parking ticket. I felt the cheer drain from my body. The snow, that moments ago had brought me joy, now irritated me as it had made my car a target.
Although already stretched financially, my disappointment wasn't about the money. This was about principle! Apparently you can no longer have one drink and drive, nor can you park! This is a FREE lot filled on a first come, first served basis. By my car being there and filling space, I'm actually encouraging use of the rarely utilized pay parking. Being cautious and trying to follow the law evidently brings punishment. It appears that I can no longer legally leave my car anywhere!
So what is a responsible, money conscious car owner supposed to do if they've had a few more than expected? I've basically been advised next time I should take my chances and drive. What a great message from the Resort Municipality of Whistler this holiday season.