"A shared view of the future." That’s how municipal administrator Jim Godfrey describes the process that began last week with the release of the Whistler 2002 workbook and continues Saturday, Dec. 13, with the annual town hall meeting. The workbook itself is the product of 11 months of council members and senior municipal staff reviewing data, gauging public opinion, studying other resort towns and interpreting trends, before identifying some goals and directions for Whistler to aim for in the next five years. But that’s not the end result; in fact it’s just the beginning. The workbook is a discussion paper, intended to solicit public input. As Godfrey says, "It’s designed to establish some foundations about what values we have." The workbook will be discussed at Saturday’s town hall meeting, but there will be plenty of opportunity for people who can’t attend the meeting to have their say. Pick up a workbook at municipal hall, study the statements in it, make your comments, then return it to municipal hall. Comments and information from the returned workbooks will be compiled and will form the basis of a phone survey that will be conducted to verify the directions and goals gleaned from the workbooks. When a set of goals and directions is established, likely some time in the spring, those goals and the target dates to achieve them will be listed in a public calendar, which will be reviewed quarterly. Part of the intent, Godfrey says, is to provide the general public with a mechanism to judge how well Whistler is doing in meeting the community-defined goals and directions. The intent is clearly to encourage public input into this visioning process for Whistler. To that end, the workbook does an admirable job of defining broad issues, suggesting goals and directions for the next five years and some courses of action to achieve those goals, all in a readable, concise format. And unlike previous town hall meetings where discussion of Whistler’s future was limited to a few general questions, the workbook is remarkably broad in scope. But while the workbook and the town hall meeting are part of a visioning process, more discussion of how this vision is to be paid for is required. Last month council introduced a new municipal budgeting system that encourages entrepreneurial efforts by each department. That’s part of the plan. Corporate sponsorships and partnerships are also likely in the equation, but the municipality also hopes to convince the province to provide it with a greater share of the tax revenues it derives from Whistler. The model here is some of the Colorado resorts; the argument that will be presented to Victoria is that Whistler is a valuable part of the provincial economy and to ensure that continues to be the case the province should allow Whistler to realize some of the revenue from, for example, the real estate transfer tax. It’s a bold approach, and will be precedent setting if successful. Reading between the lines, it’s also apparent that the vision for the future includes more user-pay scenarios. That seems to be a general trend among governments these days and not in itself a bad thing, although opinions can change when it comes time to actually fork out for something that had previously been "free." There are some interesting ideas in the workbook, including a concept to make sure Whistler remains affordable to residents. But the most important part of the whole exercise is public involvement.

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