Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Suck it up. That was the province’s message to municipalities exactly one week before Christmas when it announced another round of cuts in transfer payments to local governments. For Whistler, transfer payments go from $80,000 last year to $29,000 this year. It’s a net loss of $51,000 which, in terms of a $23 million municipal operating budget isn’t huge, but when you consider that two years ago Whistler received more than $300,000 in provincial grants you get an idea of the direction things are heading. Municipal Affairs Minister Jenny Kwan said the cuts wouldn’t be uniform across the board but according to a graduated scale based on municipalities’ populations. Communities with populations over 9,000 face reductions of up to 2.5 per cent of total revenues. Communities between 5,000 and 9,000 population will see payments reduced no more than one per cent of total revenues. Coincidentally, it was just the previous week that BC Stats came out with new population estimates for towns and regional districts across the province. Whistler’s population, according to BC Stats, is now just over 9,000. Municipal staff feel the actual number is closer to 8,700, but Whistler is in the 9,000-plus group as far as transfer payments. For a municipal government like Whistler’s, which is seeing development revenues dry up as the town nears buildout, and Whistler taxpayers, who are faced with some of the highest property assessments in North America, the trend shown by the provincial government is particularly alarming. However, the full impact of the province’s decisions probably won’t be seen until the spring, when municipal tax notices are issued. But there is another set of figures the municipality is working on which should go to Victoria sometime in 1999. When Whistler councillors came back from their tour of American ski resorts in the fall of 1997 they returned armed with examples of how local governments in those resort towns rely less on property taxes and local residents to pay for municipal infrastructures — infrastructures designed to serve visitors as well as residents — and have taxation systems that make visitors pay a share. For the last six months the RMOW has been compiling data to show Whistler’s contribution to the provincial economy — some estimates have it at close to $2 billion — and to build a case for giving the municipality greater powers in taxation. The goal is to reduce the load on property owners and ensure visitors pay a fair share. In the words of Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, "I’d rather not get any (provincial) grants, but have the province give us the tools." Whether the provincial government, strapped as it is for cash and trying to pump life into an ailing economy, accepts Whistler’s arguments will be one of the most interesting issues of 1999. It should be an issue that comes to the fore next fall, just as people start to think about November’s municipal elections.

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