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2010 budget approved by council

Revenue from hotel room tax expected to be higher than last year

There were just a couple of sticking points in the 2010 budget that council took issue with before approving it this week.

Among the concerns were a $300,000 line item for website redevelopment and another $2.3 million line item for vehicle purchases.

Both of those issues will be brought back to the table for discussion in the New Year.

This Five-Year Financial Plan 2010-2014 brings another year of property tax increases for home and business owners. Next year the tax increases will be seven per cent, on top of eight per cent increases in 2009.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth was the only member of council to oppose the plan, questioning why the budget needed to be approved at the Dec. 1 meeting when it doesn't need to go to the province until the spring.

"I just want more time to look at it and talk about it," he explained after the meeting.

While it's true the 2010 budget was tied together with the 2009 budget and part of the lengthy discussions and public engagement last spring, Forsyth said there are some differences and he thinks they're worth going over in more detail.

Council has just studied the 2010 budget for a couple of hours together, he added.

"We don't need to (approve) it right now," he said.

While true that last year's budget wasn't passed until late April, Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability, said it's better to set direction before getting too far into the New Year.

"I personally would like to see us have a budget in place for Jan. 1," she told council.

"This gives us budget authority for the first three months of the year."

Council was also told at the meeting that the $2.3 million line item for vehicle purchases includes a $1.7 million fire truck.

Administrator Bill Barratt said the municipality's vehicle replacement plan follows best practices.

"It actually saves us money, not costs us money," he explained.

There were several guidelines staff followed when developing the 2010 budget including a four per cent increase to municipal labour costs.

This increase is based on labour agreements and benchmarked against other municipalities.

The 2010 budget also paints a rosier picture of the general financial outlook in Whistler. The Resort Municipality Transfer Taxes (RMT), the money which comes from the province out of hotel room tax, is now budgeted to be higher than last year, with an increase of 3.6 per cent. That translates to almost $10 million coming back into municipal coffers from hotel rooms rented in Whistler. That money funds not only Whistler's Olympic Games Office but also a gamut of tourism initiatives throughout the resort.

Another positive change is that investment income is not expected to decline as much as previously projected, going from $550,000 in 2009 to $1.7 million in 2010.

A seven per cent property tax increase is estimated to cost $14 per $100,000 of property value. That means for a single family home valued at $1 million, the tax increase amounts to $140.

There will be no other increases to fees and charges next year except the user-pay parking system, which is expected to bring in almost $1 million to the municipality.