Budget open house draws anxious crowd 

With prospect of a 20 per cent tax increase, community members grill RMOW officials on spending

click to enlarge Tax Dollars at Work A loader piles high Whistler’s fluffly life blood. Taxes in Whistler could increase by 20 per cent over three years.
  • Tax Dollars at Work A loader piles high Whistler’s fluffly life blood. Taxes in Whistler could increase by 20 per cent over three years.

Taxes increases are always hard to swallow.

Tax increases during hard economic times are especially tough.

Last Thursday, roughly 45 community members packed into the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre theatre to hash over municipal spending - and question why the municipality is considering a 20 per cent property tax increase over the next three years.

"I don't mind paying a bit of property taxes," said one apprehensive community member. "But if mine go up 25 per cent (over four years), and I am going to have to pay to park, that seems like a lot."

Another person asked: "Where do you expect the taxpayer to come up with this money?"

"I want to remind you that the sticky, greedy claws of two other governments (the provincial and federal) are already in our pockets."

Front of mind during the two-hour event was whether municipal hall is spending too much on staff salaries, since wages and benefits account for 60 per cent of the municipality's operating expenses.

To that skepticism, Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability, said the municipality has become more prudent with its hiring.

"We aren't hiring unless approved by council, and council has not approved any new positions yet," said Landry.

"We have not replaced two vacant planner positions, one administration position and a project manager; and we replaced a general manager position with a manager position."

Chief Administration Officer Bill Barratt also said he expects significant staff attrition after the 2010 Olympics.

"I know there will be attrition after the Games, and I haven't filled any positions that have left," said Barratt.

"We have a nine per cent turnover, and we are not that big an organization. In my view, we are efficient."

But both Landry and Barratt said with the Olympics coming next year it is important that Whistler has enough staff.

"We have the largest event Canada has ever had coming here," said Barratt, when asked whether the municipality is obliged to maintain staff levels.

Community members also were concerned that staff at municipal hall would see a wage increase this year - while many in the community will likely see a decrease in their incomes, and some businesses are facing 30 to 40 per cent drops in revenue.

Landry said a few years ago the municipality signed a contract with their employees to get them through the Games. The contract benchmarks municipal wages to six other municipalities in the Lower Mainland.

"If we tried to roll back wages, CUPE would be up here immediately," added Barratt.

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