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Council will listen to budget questions

Deadline for public input on five-year financial plan extended to Monday’s meeting

There is still time to address comments and concerns to council about the budget before it is adopted next month.

At Monday's regular council meeting on May 2, council will allow members of the public to ask questions or voice concerns about the five-year financial plan during the public question and answer period, which kicks off each council meeting at 6:30 p.m.

The $47 million budget was first released late last week. A public open house on Monday afternoon brought out about 10 community members to ask questions of staff.

As usual there are a number of contributing factors which play a significant role in this budget. Among them is the hotel tax, which goes towards Tourism Whistler, the free village shuttle, visitor needs and village maintenance, among other things.

In 2004 hotel tax collected decreased by four per cent to just more than $3.5 million, a significant decrease from its peak in 2001 at almost $4 million.

The budget projects the hotel tax will return to that level again in 2007, which is based on Tourism Whistler's projections among other things.

"We're trying to be careful with it," said Lisa Landry, municipal manager of fiscal planning.

This year hotel tax revenue is already down over the same period last year. In January Whistler received $349,000 in hotel tax. In January 2004 the total was almost $515,000. In February Whistler received $517,000 in hotel tax. Last year that was more than $580,000. The weather in the early season played an enormous role in those declines.

Two more uncertainties play a role in this budget.

The Class 1/Class 6 tax differential is still an unresolved issue. Every year there are strata-hotels which challenge their commercial classification (Class 6) and appeal to be put in the lower residential tax bracket (Class 1). For example, the Legends hotel successfully appealed their Class 6 status and as a result the municipality was out $300,000.

The budget states: "The potential impact on property tax revenues for Whistler remains an issue. We continue to face a series of large, outstanding, multi-year assessment appeals directly related to the classification debate. This creates financial uncertainty with respect to municipal property tax revenues and provision must be made in the budget for potential revenue losses."

Landry explained that the municipality is looking for a tax class system which gives them certainty and consistency in the budgeting process. They are still working with the province and other resorts such as Tofino, on this issue.

One more thing to consider is Whistler is still working with the provincial government on financial tools, which were negotiated during the Olympic bid process. Financial tools, in whatever form they will take, are designed to ease the heavy burden on the property tax base in Whistler.

Landry said there are ongoing negotiations with the province and a senior government official has been directed to bring a paper to Cabinet by the early fall.

While municipal taxes are increasing at the rate of inflation this year, as per council policy, the provincial school taxes are going down.

Residential school taxes will see a decrease of nine per cent this year and business school taxes, which have been increasing every year, are decreasing this year by three per cent.

Landry also highlighted the fact that the budget can be amended at any time throughout the year. It was amended three times last year.

She will give a formal presentation to council at the May 2 meeting.