I read last week that Bob MacPherson has been appointed the acting (Chief Administrative Officer). It would seem this would be a great time for the municipality to show some creative job sharing by having him assume the role on a permanent basis and distribute his general manager of community life role.
This would eliminate a salary and allow the RMOW to give Bob "reasonable" compensation as the new CAO. It may also show that knowing of Mr. (Bill) Barrett's retirement the RMOW had a succession plan in place and that they are trying to be financially responsible.
Muni out of touch?
Muni hall has turned into a real cash grab. It seems really odd to me that our municipal government is engaging our tax dollars in commercial business opportunities that compete directly with local businesses who are really struggling to survive in this bleak economy.
It's bad enough that our tax dollars constantly subsidize redundant salaries and unjustifiable pay increases at muni hall. There is nothing we can do about that, but we are now faced with having to subsidize start up businesses that clearly would not survive on their own and are using our taxpayer's dollars to take money out of the pockets of existing businesses, which are struggling to survive.
This makes no sense. Municipal government exists to provide the community with essential services. That's it. Playing real estate czar, restaurateur, parking lot czar and propping up a Center for Sustainability, among other things, should not be a part of any municipal mandate.
Why not use hotel tax money to subsidize day skier parking lots and local bus transportation, both used by tourists, rather than opening a restaurant in an outpost neighbourhood that would never be profitable on its own?
Pie in the sky philosophies about sustainable practice are all fine and good, but when the effect of those policies implode the financial well being of those who are paying the bills, it all has to stop.
Clearly, we have folks in charge who have overstepped the boundary of their intended job description and are not in touch with reality.
In the real world, businesses have shareholders to answer to when they want to take on new projects or simply burn cash. Well, at muni hall, those shareholders are called voters and it is my hope that the current mayor and council are all voted out this fall so we can start with a clean slate and get on with practicing fiscal sustainability at muni hall.
Someone with a bit of free time should start a Facebook page titled "vote 'em all out" this fall. I am too busy just trying to keep my head above water.
Pension plan needs second look
Paycheques For Life - it's not Lotto 6/49, but what the B.C. Municipal Pension Plan advertises as what is in store for their plan members, including our RMOW.
The pension plan (formula) is two per cent X years of service X best five years of salary. Someone such as our retiring (Chief Administrative Officer) will start with a pension of about $115,000/year fully indexed to inflation. Pensions such as this are termed Defined Benefit Plans and are available to almost all government employees.
Corporations have opted out of such plans in droves, leaving private sector employees largely with defined contribution plans. Such plans depend on what you put in plus the returns of the capital markets. It doesn't take an actuary to appreciate how unfair such disparate schemes are to those not on the government payroll. For example, the top RMOW employees have been receiving wage gains averaging 7.6 per cent/year since 2007; however, pension fund returns have been averaging barely two per cent.
On top of this the average government employee is retiring at age 59 and collecting a pension for 30 years versus retirement at age 61 and collecting for only 20 years, 40 years ago.
The leverage to meet these liabilities is phenomenal - the federal employees' plan has an estimated unfunded liability of $65 billion. The closer you look, the worse the optics look. The B.C. municipal plan goes up with inflation, but not down with disinflation.
If capital markets cannot deliver positive rates or return, it will fall right back on the taxpayer to fill the hole.
This is leading us towards a retired population of two classes in the future - those who were in government and the rest of us.
Going back 30 years, many corporations offered defined benefit plans and government employees earned less than those in the private sector, trading job security for lower wages, there was not the opposition to government plans. Now everything has changed with government employees making 20 per cent higher wages than the productive side of the economy, which in turn has abandoned good pension plans.
If you feel royally screwed, then you have understood this little Pension 101 diatribe.
Now it's your turn to ask those seeking election in Whistler what they intend to do about this vast inequity, which will eventually divide the community.
Wage freezes and reduction in staff making more than $100,000 would be a good place to start. One of the penalties of not participating in politics is that you will be governed by your inferiors.
Don't shoot the messenger
As a cashier at a store for some 14 years here in Whistler, I feel like I have to get this off my chest. The smoking age is 19 in B.C. and like it or not I have to ask for proof of age as part of my job.
It takes two seconds for someone to pull out his or her driver's license or B.C. ID from his or her wallet to prove that they are of age. For most people I ask this is not a problem and throughout the years I have sheepishly apologized to people in their 30s and even closer to 40 for this and most take it as a compliment.
However, occasionally, some person thinks that they should make a big deal about this. I asked for ID from a man the other day and he protested "...this is a joke!" and I said I had no choice because it is the law.
He showed me his ID and it turns out he was 22. Now most people realize that cashiers will ID anyone that looks 25 or younger and I added that he should not take this as an insult especially since he had proof right there!
But, of course, he did not see it that way and said he was offended before storming out of the store like I had ruined his day.
Why this is insulting only he knows, but he should know that if the Coastal Health Authority sends someone in and we are caught selling to a minor, it is a large fine for the store as well as the cashier ($575).
I don't know about him but that is a large portion of my paycheque. Seriously, if taking the two seconds to take out his ID makes him late for an appointment, I am sorry but take it up with the Health Authority, not me.
Parking lot plan
As I was watching parking consultant David Hill lead the first parking workshop, I couldn't help but think that we're probably wasting his considerable expertise.
Realistically speaking, there are only four options open; 1) keep the status quo, 2) raise the parking rates to those proposed for June 1, 3) go back to the parking lots being free for use, and 4) drop the parking rates to something everybody can live with.
Options 1 and 2 either aren't working, or are politically untenable, so they're off the table to start. I'd love to go back to free for use and I imagine everybody in town wishes the municipality had never decided to pave the lots in the first place. However, that would be a huge financial hit on the municipal reserves and would likely incur a large tax increase that the community isn't in a position to accept. If you take the figure that the RMOW just put forward for maintenance of the parking lots - $1,000 per stall for 1,800 stalls in lots 1 to 5 - then that's $1.8 million in maintenance. That's more than twice what the revenue the pay parking brought in its first year of operation and there's still the contributions to municipal reserves to pay.
That leaves dropping the parking rate to something we can live with. It's not rocket science, and it's clear by the empty pay parking spaces that the rates are too high.
For example, if the rates were dropped to $1.00 per hour in all the lots, and $5.00 to park for the entire day and night in the day skier lots, it would probably bring in more revenue, as it's better to fill three pay spaces at $5.00 than one at $13.50.
When you consider that Whistler depends not only on its workforce, but also winter and summer season pass holders, make monthly parking in lots 4 and 5 $25.00 per month for everyone. The more people we get into the village the better, so why not drop the monthly rate in the underground from $85 to $40 per month? Right now, there's almost no one parking there, so it's only going to have a positive effect on the revenue.
Getting closer to regional transit
Congratulations to the Village of Pemberton, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and BC Transit on the implementation of late night service between Pemberton and Whistler.
We now have two transit trips each way between Squamish and Pemberton every day.
If you leave downtown Squamish at 6:14 a.m. you will arrive at the gondola transit exchange in time to catch the 7:25 a.m. bus to Pemberton.
Likewise, if you leave Pemberton at 7:08 a.m., you will arrive at the gondola transit exchange in time to catch the 7:45 a.m. bus to Squamish.
With the addition of the late night service to Pemberton it will be possible to leave downtown Squamish at 9:29 p.m. and transfer to the Pemberton bus at Whistler. Likewise, it will be possible to leave Pemberton just before midnight and transfer to the last Squamish bus at 12:30 am.
We now have two trips in each direction every day.
There are also afternoon trips, which have a Squamish bus sitting idle in Whistler from 2:30 pm to 4:45 pm. That is enough time for a third trip each day connecting the communities of the Sea to Sky corridor.
We already have the buses on the road. We already have schedules that permit travel within the corridor. We are so close to adding an afternoon trip in each direction.
Where is the will and determination to implement a regional transit system?
Council should take stand on smart meters
Recently, several B.C. municipalities such as Lake Cowichan, Saltspring Island and Colwood have passed moratoriums on smart meter installations citing health concerns over increased radiation.
Both Gibsons and Sechelt councils passed motions urging BC Hydro to study the issue further, with potential input from the Ministry of Energy and Health Canada.
Why is Whistler not joining the ranks of the other progressive municipalities and how do we stop smart meters from being installed in our homes and neighbourhoods?
Gary Murphy, chief project officer, Smart Metering Program of BC Hydro stated that he was "totally confident" that the emission levels were safe. "Exposure to radio frequency from a smart meter over its entire 20-year life span is equal to a single 30-minute cell phone call." If this is the case, then why are municipalities opting out until we have more data?
If you call BC Hydro to opt out of the program, they ensure you that smart meters are safe, yet they have no long-term studies to back up their claims. Thalidamide was also supposed to be safe.
Until now, we've had a choice on whether our cell phones stay on, and whether to allow microwave ovens, WiFi or other electronics into our homes.
When it comes to these EMF-emitting smart meters, we appear to have no choice. I live in a large townhouse complex, with a separate electrical room for each building that will house six to eight smart meters each. How can we ask one unit to act as an electro smog hub and take on that amount of exposure, especially when kids live in many of those units?
At this point, no one knows the long-term effects of these devices, yet BC Hydro is intent on installing these meters at the expense of our health.
I am hoping that our local and provincial governments listen to the people and their concerns when it comes to smart meters.
Summer Reality Check
Living in the "Whistler Bubble" has both its upsides and its downsides. Those who have lived and worked here for many years may wish to consider the many options available in B.C. for holiday destination visits.
Summer has arrived and yet the days of sunshine that we so desperately need to attract the spontaneous casual visits and the one or two-week holiday visits from Vancouverites are nowhere to be found. Google a fourteen-day long-range forecast and all you see is what we don't need-Rain!!!! Clouds!!!! Ahhhh! Finally a day of sunshine!
Holiday and getaway destination competition is out there in a big way and that includes the Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Kootenay, Chilcotin, and Northern B.C. Our less than ideal summer weather may be a welcomed relief to those suffering heat waves, but for most of our local market (Vancouver Lower Mainland residents) at approximately two million people, sunshine is very much desired after such a long and wet winter/spring.
Economic conditions, HST, the ever-increasing price of fuel and other costs associated with just getting and being in Whistler (pay parking) plus our poor weather conditions are considered to be good reasons not to visit Whistler for those planning vacations closer to home. Vancouver itself is a destination that many people go to vacation and it's also a great place for a stay at home vacation, which we in Whistler really need to consider.
Let's make sure we are always giving people more and more reasons to visit Whistler and to experience all that it has to offer. The more people that fill this village and valley, the more vibrant is this community and this destination.
Brian Wolfgang Becker
Cars and bikes need to co-exist
It is that time of year to remind cyclists that they are not to ride on sidewalks.
Also, unless they are walking their bikes, they are missing the crosswalks.
Cyclists seem to want to have full freedom as a road vehicle, yet they want to have the freedom of a pedestrian.
Drivers have enough to watch out for (without adding)... cyclists darting in front of cars, riding on sidewalks and then darting in front of cars, not stopping at stop signs, and not wearing helmets: I could go on and on.
Parents need to also take a proactive position and teach their children proper cycling etiquette. If a car or truck struck a cyclist that was not exercising proper etiquette, the driver would be dragged over the coals.
We need to co-exist on this matter and cyclists need to remember when they get hit or they hit a car there can be a major (injury).