Council briefs: Councillors vote against freezing wages 

The 2009 budget debate took a personal twist Tuesday night as councillors considered freezing their salaries this year.

Even though the change would only save the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) approximately $6,000, Councillor Grant Lamont brought forward the motion to symbolize council's awareness of the tough economic times that lie ahead.

For 2009, the mayor's salary is $86,200, and councillors' salaries are $30,900 each.

"Symbolism to me is really important... And I am doing this as a gesture to say, 'Look, we are going to tighten things up,'" said Lamont.

His motion was shot down in a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Ken Melamed and Councillors Ralph Forsyth, Ted Milner and Chris Quinlan in opposition.

"I feel disempowered by the intent of the motion," said Melamed.

"Councillors can individually make a decision to refuse the increase or to take the increase and donate it to a local community group, but to exercise that will over us who feel there is strength in the policy... that is something I am not comfortable with."

Councillors currently receive annual raises based on a formula that includes salary increases in Greater Vancouver.

Meanwhile, municipal employees continue to work on balancing the 2009 and 2010 budgets, which face $3 million and $1.3 shortfalls respectively.

For 2009 Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability for the municipality, is suggesting a tax increase of $20 for every $100,000 of assessed value on residential property.

But a recent survey conducted by the Mustel Group indicates that taxpayers would prefer a $40 tax increase to maintain services.

Specifically, 22 per cent of permanent residents and 28 per cent of second homeowners would favour that increase, over a $30 tax increase with a 10 per cent cut to services, a $20 increase with a 20 per cent cut to services, or a $40 increase with expanded services.

An open house with these survey findings was also presented on Wednesday evening at the Telus Conference Centre.

Once a restaurant, always a restaurant
What will Whistler village look like in 10 years?

That's a question staff at municipal hall are trying to clarify, and they are working on a "Whistler Retail Strategy" to help provide the answers.

Among many things, the project might involve creating a bylaw that would zone restaurant locations for restaurant-use only.

Mike Kirkegaard, manager of resort planning for the RMOW, explained that market rents favour retail shops over restaurants, and "there is a potential to lose these key restaurant locations."

Several councillors raised concerns about "down-zoning" commercial spaces in Whistler Village.

"We are not the family that owns Park Royal," said Councillor Eckhard Ziedler. "We are a municipal government. We don't own the space that people are working on."

Added Councillor Grant Lamont: "I realize that having a consistent look and feel and anchor locations are important, but to take away some of the opportunities... is like putting them (businesses) in a straitjacket."

Nevertheless, the seven council members voted unanimously to have municipal staff prepare a retail plan and a restaurant zoning amendment.

"What we are realizing is Whistler is effectively an outdoor mall," said Mayor Ken Melamed.

"All we are trying to do is replicate - without the ownership - to some degree the attempt to compose the mall characteristics to the greatest success to the mutual benefit of the property owners, but also the resort."

First Nations get their neighbourhood

The Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations are one step closer to building their 90-home Alpine North neighbourhood above Rainbow.

Without discussion, council unanimously adopted the Official Community Plan and zoning bylaw amendment that permit the neighbourhood.

The Alpine North development is part of the First Nations' Legacy Land Agreement with the province, involving eight parcels of land totalling 300 acres. The land comes as part of the agreement to host some of the 2010 Olympics on Squamish and Lil'wat traditional territory.

Revenue from the neighbourhood - which will consist of 48 duplexes and 42 townhomes - is expected to offset the cost of running the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.

Meanwhile, the municipality is still working on receiving the Alta Vista BCBC lands, formerly the Capilano Highway works yard, from the First Nations in exchange for a piece of municipal land that will be integrated into Alpine North.

Bob McPherson, general manager of community life for the municipality, said the terms of the agreement have been finalized but the agreement has not yet been signed.

Municipal employees recognized

Premier Gordon Campbell recognized employees at the Resort Municipality of Whistler this week for their work.

Bill Barratt, chief administrative officer for the municipality, received a Premier Award for 15-years of work on the Fitzsimmons Creek landslip.

And Heather Beresford, environmental stewardship manager at the municipality, received an award on behalf of Whistler's black bear working group.

Both employees acknowledged that many people were involved in the two projects.

Added Mayor Ken Melamed: "We don't undertake these projects with the purpose of getting these awards, but it is always nice to be appreciated and get recognition."

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