While the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will look to its reserves to “bridge the gap” opened by COVID-19, residents are still looking at another tax increase in 2021.
The RMOW is proposing a 4.89-per-cent increase to property taxes next year, and no increase to utilities or user fees.
“This is my third budget process as mayor, and I can assure you that we have spent a lot of time considering the priorities and service levels in light of our current reality,” said Mayor Jack Crompton at a virtual budget open house on Nov. 16, adding that in spite of the pandemic, RMOW infrastructure continues to mature, while services and costs see upward pressures as economic cycles fluctuate.
Even before COVID, the RMOW was putting a lot of energy into asset management, Crompton said.
“With that sense of what is out there that needs to be replaced, we are paying special attention to our reserve accounts through this budget process,” he said.
“What do we need to save in order to repair and replace those assets in the future?”
As for what to expect on next year’s tax bill, property taxes are value-based, “and so paid proportionately based on each property’s assessed value,” said director of finance Carlee Price, in a presentation at the open house.
“The proposed increase translates into an amount of $114.05 on a sample property … valued at just under $1.5 million.”
TAPPING THE RESERVES
The pandemic has had a “severe and quite immediate” impact on non-tax revenues that are expected to persist into 2021, Price said, noting that full-year revenue is now anticipated to be about $5.4 million less than it was at the start of the fiscal year.
“Our goal throughout this period has been that core operations remain intact, and to continue to ensure that the community remains ready to welcome tourists,” Price said.
“The RMOW has aimed throughout to spend in a way that is focused on positive long-term recovery outcomes despite this current short-term dislocation.”
The municipality is benefitting in part from the strength of its reserves at the outset of the pandemic, Price added.
“Those savings that are put away each year become invaluable when something like a global pandemic hits. The RMOW can choose to draw some portion of the necessary funding support from reserves at this time,” she said.
As such, total reserves balances, hovering around $90 million in 2019, are forecasted to fall to just over $60 million by 2023.
“The reserves will ultimately need to be restored to healthy balances, and this becomes a part of our 2023 to 2025 fiscal plan,” Price said.
“In the near term, however, favouring reserve draws over higher tax requisitions feels like the right and balanced approach.”
The 2021 proposed projects list comes with an estimated $54.9-million price tag in 2021 (with about $3.77 million carried over from 2020).
While it’s a significant jump, on paper, from the $39 million proposed in 2020, the figure is inflated by a whopping $10-million, single-year investment in resident-restricted housing.
The $10-million investment will be used to advance housing on Parcel A in Cheakamus Crossing, and will be viewed as a line of credit, to be used only as required, and to be fully repaid in 12 to 24 months, according to Eric Martin, board member of the Whistler 2020 Development Corp (see story on page 14).
According to budget documents, key focus areas for 2021 include tourism recovery and community well-being; implementing the Big Moves Strategy on climate action; employee housing; First Nations relationships and community engagement. Find them online at whistler.ca/budget.
Aside from housing, water and sewer infrastructure upgrades make up much of the proposed project spend, with $8.2 million budgeted in 2021 for sewer main upgrades (and a total $15.5 million budgeted from the sewer fund overall).
Other big proposed spends in 2021 include $2.4 million for a Rainbow Park rejuvenation, $1.35 million for community wildfire protection, $1.7 million for village washroom buildings, $2.9 million for road upgrades, and $1.6 million for utility undergrounding projects in White Gold and Alta Vista (along with a further $9.9 million from 2022-2024).
Video of the open house will be posted to whistler.ca/budgetopenhouse.
A year ago, in first tabling the 2020-2024 budget, the RMOW‘s proposed project list included 162 projects, with a proposed budget cost of $39 million in 2020 (including up to $10 million carried over from 2019).
In May, as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on municipal revenue streams, council passed an amendment stripping $12.7 million from proposed project spending—but stayed the course on a planned 2.8-per-cent tax increase.