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Municipal revenues uncertain

Condo-hotel tax classification potentially a $2.5 million hole

By Alison Taylor

The resort municipality’s budget is back on track, after several years off schedule, but there are still uncertainties about future tax revenues for Whistler.

That’s because there is still no resolution to the ongoing disparities in property taxes among condo-hotel owners in the resort (see related story).

As it puts the finishing touches on its Five Year Financial Plan this week, Whistler is looking to get some assurances that its tax roll won’t be changing significantly in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is working on a solution to the Class 1/6 disparities. A worse case scenario for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, however, would result in a $2.5 million reduction to the budget.

“The municipal budget can’t accommodate that kind of shortfall,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

Roughly half the condo hotel properties in the resort pay taxes at the Class 6 commercial rate, for a total tax bill of $11.4 million.

By splitting up the management of rooms among different companies, and effectively removing a front desk service for the whole complex, other condo-hotel properties fall into the residential Class 1 rate and consequently pay lower taxes. Collectively these properties bring in $4.35 million in municipal revenues.

If all units paid the lower tax rate, municipal revenues would shrink by $2.5 million.

“Really, at the end of the day, the RMOW’s interest is two things: one is we want to close off the loopholes that are degrading the level of customer services and public safety, and the other is to create certainty in our tax rolls,” said the mayor.

Every year property owners challenge the system, trying to get their properties assessed at the lower tax rate.

The only outstanding challenge at the moment is the Tantalus Lodge, which is appealing its tax classification for three years, beginning in 2002.

The municipality’s general manager of corporate services, John Nelson, said each budget could see a swing of roughly half a million dollars, depending on which side the appeals fall.

That’s significant for a municipal budget in the range of $45 million. It creates significant uncertainties in the budgeting process.

And while Whistler is not alone in these uncertainties (there are appeals to classifications in several communities), it is an anomaly in other ways.

“We have more Class 6 condo hotel properties, as a proportion of our budget, than any other local government or community in B.C. that we know of,” said Melamed.

Whistler’s early budget figures are to be released at Monday’s council meeting. That will allow for public consultation on the financial plan in January.

This is the first time in several years that the budget is on its proper budgeting cycle with a draft complete before the end of the year, rather than adopted in May at the deadline.