Budget impacts all of us... so get informed 

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For the first time in a long, long time the number of people under 35 years old attending the recent budget open house outnumbered those 50 and above.

That may not seem like anything of import, but in fact I would argue it is one of the true measures of the sustainability of our community.

For months, if not years, these pages have reflected the very great difficulty that young people face in staying in Whistler and making it their home. There are long-time residents who like to tell the young 'uns to suck it up and get another job to live here — after all that's what they had to do.

But many question that "tradition." Just because someone else had to do that does that really mean that young community members have to kill themselves working just to stay here?

That's not to say there aren't those who feel "entitled" and don't know what a hard day's work looks like — but let's give most of those trying to make Whistler their home the benefit of the doubt.

So seeing some of them at the budget open house last Wednesday, Jan. 25, was refreshing. They wanted to know about the plans for the upgraded skateboard park, plans for the soccer fields for their kids' involvement in the very popular Whistler Youth Soccer Club and more.

And, of course, everyone wanted to know if there was going to be a tax increase — there is — likely in the 1.7 per cent range for property value taxes and solid waste fees. According to Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) documents there will also likely be a 1.5 per cent increase in water parcel taxes and fees, and a one per cent increase to sewer parcel taxes and fees.

For the last three years Whistler has enjoyed a zero increase in property taxes (that's not to say taxes didn't go up but it was not due to property tax increases).

The long years of "no increase" followed on a previous legacy of tax increases of 24.5 per cent made by the former council — increases deemed necessary by consultants engaged to make sure Whistler's finances were in good shape.

But with increased events in the resort year round, growing visitor numbers, downward pressure on infrastructure it was only a matter of time before tax increases had to come back.

There has been a 2.1 per cent increase in the labour rate and hours needed to operate services, adding $430,000 to the bottom line and employer payroll costs for such things as WCB and MSP have gone up $250,000 (5.7 per cent). So that brings costs up to $26.8 million from $26.2 in 2014.

There are also 150 possible projects on the books with a total price tag of $27 million — if they all go ahead.

At the open house, the work on Alpine Meadows infrastructure was highlighted ($10 million over two years) along with recreation infrastructure and replacement ($3.7 million to 2019), work to the Nesters solid waste facility ($340,000 to 2016), flood assessment work to Tapley's ($25,000 for consultant's report), work to the Cultural Connector ($1.9 million to 2017), and an annual budget of $300,000 for the alpine trails program.

Last year's budget saw 56 new projects funded from the general fund to a tune of $3.8 million.

It's easy to see the scope of the projects increasing as the resort faces the music over aging infrastructure.

Budget documents also propose that money be spent looking at congestion issues on the Sea to Sky highway even as far down as Squamish.

There are few powder, or event weekend, that don't see a total bottleneck of traffic feeling of the two-lane portion of the highway into the one lane heading north out of Function Junction. The resort sees the traffic pattern reversed at the end of the ski day frequently. Is widening the highway an option? Or creating three lanes as was done during the 2010 Olympic Games?

Also up for discussion is the budget for work Tourism Whistler and the RMOW do together to drive large group and conference business. This is not the first year the money has been in the budget (proposed for 2015 is a $130,000 spend) with an aim of, "(supporting) the deployment of local in-kind resources in order to increase our ability attract resort-wide conference business."

Hmmm.

The proposed budget is a packed document, which reflects the priorities of those living here. Every resident should take the time to read it. You can find everything here: www.whistler.ca/municipal-gov/budget-taxes/resort-municipality-whistler-budget.

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