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VANOC offers cash to pave Lot 4

Council balks at spending contingency fund

Council appears unwilling, at this time, to accept a sizable cash contribution from VANOC to pave one of the day skier lots if it means more spending from municipal coffers.

In a deal presented to council Tuesday night, VANOC has offered to give Whistler $700,000 to pave Parking Lot 4 - a project previously unconsidered in the upgrades to the day skier lots.

The municipality, however, must come to the table with $625,000. Staff proposes getting that money from the contingency fund in the $4.6 million budget to pave lots 1, 2, and 3.

And according to Councillor Eckhard Zeidler that's "yet another gift... that is going to cost us money.

"I'd like to see that money stay in the bank," he added.

"It's an attitude that I think we need a little bit more of."

Council held off on making a decision Tuesday until it had more information, but at first blush the majority balked at the spending, even if it was spending from money already budgeted.

Over the last six months Administrator Bill Barratt has been in negotiations with VANOC, working on the deal. Council was first aware the deal was in the making was when it read Tuesday's council agenda.

When Councillor Chris Quinlan asked why VANOC was giving Whistler the money, Barratt explained:

"(VANOC) would like to see it paved for the operations for the Games."

VANOC was not available for comment this week to answer Pique's questions about where the money was coming from in its budget, why they offered it to the RMOW and how crucial the paving was to its Games-time operations.

The day lots are to be VANOC's transportation hub during the Games.

The municipality's long-term vision for Lot 4, said Barratt, calls for the lot to be paved.

With VANOC's $700,000 contribution, and negotiations with the contractor, Whistler Excavations, Barratt said he managed to shave off roughly $850,000 in project costs. But, the municipality has to come to the table too.

Whistler's contribution was to come from the $900,000 contingency fund in the $4.6 million budget to pave lots 1, 2 and 3. That would leave almost $300,000 in the fund for any unforeseen costs.

"It's distinctly reducing our contingency but I'm not looking for any additional funds to complete the project at this time," project manager James Hallisey told council.

That wasn't the point, according to some councillors. Money from that fund, if leftover, was to flow back into the municipality's general fund.

"I'm not in favour of supporting this either," said Councillor Ralph Forsyth.

"This is directly on the back of the resident taxpayers. It is money that we could save."

Acting Mayor Grant Lamont echoed that sentiment.

Three of the five council members at the meeting were not in favour of the deal as first presented Tuesday (Mayor Ken Melamed and Councillor Ted Milner were not in attendance).

Councillor Tom Thomson, however, argued in favour of paving Parking Lot 4. We like to use the term "premier resort community" he said.

"We rely on rubber tire traffic to get here... and we treat them like dogs," said Thomson, referring to the potholes in the day lots. "I saw this as a chance to get a reasonably good deal..."

Paving the lot would also cut down on the dust generated by the gravel surface, he said.

Councillor Chris Quinlan urged staff to calculate the possible long-term savings of paving the lot. According to Hallisey, maintaining a paved lot is cheaper than maintaining a gravel lot.

"Do you think you could build a case for that?" asked Quinlan of Hallisey. "That's information that I would like to see."

If paved, Lot 4 is not on the radar to become pay parking as are Lots 1, 2 and 3.

Pay parking will be implemented on those lots in summer 2010, and is expected to generate more than $2 million revenue annually. Part of that take-in will cover the costs of maintaining the lots. Roughly half of the take-in will go back into reserves to re-pay the capital costs over time.

Lot 4 will not generate that revenue.

And while he supports the concept of pay parking in general, Zeidler later said he had no comfort that Lot 4 would remain free parking in the years to come.

It still rankles that the previous council, of which Zeidler was a member, was never part of the decision-making process to implement pay parking, one of the most controversial decisions in the last term, judging by the public ire.

"I never got asked about it... and that was always a thorn in my side," he said at the meeting.

With a suggestion from staff, council voted to defer its decision on the Lot 4 deal until the long-term cost analysis was complete.

After voting to defer the decision, Zeidler put forward a strongly worded motion saying that any future administrative reports to council must include the analysis of the lifetime costs of the capital project.

If it doesn't, he said: "I will simply leave the room."