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Pique N' Your Interest

No time to talk

You can’t keep a secret in this town. Just ask council.

As they work away on backroom deals, word inevitably leaks out in the community until soon enough everyone is talking about the issue publicly except for council, who are more often than not still sworn to secrecy.

Take the whistler.com deal as one example. As they worked out the details at muni hall, the nuances, the legal wranglings, the rest of us speculated about this hush-hush deal. By the time they issued the press release it was old news. Those who didn’t know about it by then probably couldn’t care less about it anyway.

Same thing with the Rainbow housing deal. As the developer made presentations to community groups, feeling out the support for the deal, council was told to keep mum. These were sensitive land negotiations after all.

And once again, last week with the announcement that Jim Godfrey was moving sideways in the organization from municipal administrator to executive director of the 2010 Games, the municipality was not ready to release the news as the community gobbled it all down and rumours ran rife.

The municipality would have preferred to release the news in an upbeat controlled way, with all the proper spin. But the community beat them to it with their wagging tongues.

It’s the nature of the beast living in a small town. People talk. You’d think there was nothing else to do in Whistler but gossip, speculate, and complain about the wheelings and dealings at muni hall.

In some ways, it’s exciting that people in this community care so much. They come out to talk at Dialogue Forums and share their two cents on any given topic. They take part in the task force groups which make up Whistler 2020, the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. They ask questions, sometimes, of their local government at the public question and answer period. They are informed. They are passionate. They are on the ball.

Which is why it’s a little upsetting that this year the municipality is releasing the 2005 budget and giving the community only five days to read the 200-page document.

Don’t we deserve a little more time to digest it?

As someone who’s gone to her fair share of open houses and council meetings, I know that many times people don’t care, they don’t show up, they don’t participate. And every three years, as municipal elections approach, council is accused of not being transparent and not engaging the community. How frustrating.

But then they go and pull something like this, releasing the budget on Thursday, April 21 and asking for public comment by Tuesday, April 26.

That will give staff just enough time to bring it before council for adoption just before the absolute deadline on May 15, when it has to be in Victoria.

Last year the public had about a month to comment on the budget before council gave it its first three readings.

I hate to say it because I know council is harassed and overworked and underpaid but… that simply not good enough. Not now. This is an important budget.

This is the first budget to incorporate the 16 strategies currently under development in the Whistler 2020, Comprehensive Sustainability Plan process – the stuff the community has been working on for THREE years.

Granted, that might be one of the reasons why the budget is so late.

The strategies aren't complete by any means but this budget has some of the 2005 actions listed such as:

• ensure 250 units of resident restricted housing are under construction within the next 18 months, beyond what is already committed;

• expand Re-Use It Centre with outdoor covered area;

• develop a recreation trail vision, and;

• generate revenue via corporate partnerships and/or licensing agreements.

All interesting stuff. All things the community might want to have a look at.

And not only is this an interesting budget, it's an interesting year, an election year. The community is watching muni hall more than ever.

The reason it's so late, as far as I can tell, is that staff didn't have a meeting with council until March.

Council reviews the Corporation's strategic plans, public surveys, economic factors and other information as the starting point and then provides direction for the next budget year.

Staff can then get to work. Generally they need six weeks to write the budget.

It's written right there in the 2004 budget… "Council reviews the text of the Five-Year Financial Plan, and gives the first three readings normally by the first council meeting in December, with final adoption during the second meeting in December."

That's the standard budget cycle.

We're four months behind schedule.

Why?

Now I know most of you couldn't care less about the budget. It is the budget after all. But for those who do, you've got a lot of reading to do this weekend and scant days to speak your mind.

It leaves me wondering, if the budget is four months behind the regular schedule, what else is getting pushed to the backburner?




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