Council weighs sustainability centre funding 

Board members, staff make pitch for $200,000 Whistler2020 contract

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The fate of Whistler's long-standing sustainability plan, Whistler2020, now rests in the hands of council.

As it works on the 2012 municipal budget, council must decide if it will kick in almost $200,000 to the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, the stewards of the plan.

It may be a drop in the bucket in a $77 million budget, but with a council led by a mayor who has expressed her concerns about funding the non-profit in the past, there is very real concern that the centre's funding won't make the cut this year. And what that means for the Whistler2020 plan is unclear.

That much was evident at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting where centre staff and board members made the pitch to council on why it should continue to fund the centre.

"We understand and appreciate the tough job that you have right now," centre board member Doug Forseth said to council, adding that taxpayers all appreciate the zero per cent tax increase slated for 2012.

Forseth urged council to understand that Whistler2020 has a role to play in the community too.

For the $200,000, the centre, among other things, monitors Whistler's sustainability journey, tracking no less than 94 key indicators from water and energy use to cultural participation and income levels. The money that comes from the municipality essentially pays for two employees at the centre. They do work that was once done inside the hall.

"I think you all get Whistler2020's importance in the community," he added.

Even if the centre can't get the regular annual contribution, said Forseth, it is prepared to work with whatever funding it can get from the municipality.

However, he made clear, it's not a deal breaker for the centre.

"We have other business out there," he said. "We're not beholden to anybody."

Out of its $425,000 in seed funding from the municipality since 2007, money that came from the RMI (Resort Municipality Initiative) funds, the centre has generated just under $1 million — that's from grant money and contract fees.

Bear in mind, Forseth added, the centre sprang up at a very difficult economic time in 2008.

"I'm very proud of what we've done," he said.

At that time Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who was then a councillor, voted against the seed funding for the centre.

"Because I didn't think it was an appropriate use of taxpayers' money," she explained.

Last year marked the end of the seed funding money.

Since its birth, however, the centre has helped position Whistler as a leader in sustainability planning.

Other local governments look to it for guidance in their own planning. That's one of the ways the centre plans to stay operational — looking for more outside contracts.

It has secured contracts this year with Duncan and Valemount, among others.

Aside from those contracts, Whistler too is increasingly dealing with organizations looking for commitments to sustainability.

Forseth said the X Games bid, which the resort is waiting for word on in the coming weeks, has a whole section in its proposal dedicated to sustainability.

"Sustainability is a factor in many of the relationships that we have," he said.

The centre's executive director, Cheeying Ho, said its business model is taking Whistler's successes in sustainability and sharing them around the world, and conversely, taking successes elsewhere and bringing them back to Whistler.

"We're on plan," she said.

She detailed to council how the centre would be tweaking the plan and its monitoring this year with a goal.

"It's a vision and every year we create the detail around it," she said of the plan. "We're hoping that we're going to be able to continue working with/for the RMOW."

Council will be making its decision in the coming weeks as it firms up the 2012 municipal budget.

There will be a budget open house on Monday, March 12 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Whistler Conference Centre.


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