Editorial 

The price of Games

A report is expected to come to council this month that will detail how much Whistler has spent to date in preparing to host the 2010 Olympics. That might seem like a straight forward report, one that could have been presented annually for the nearly five years since the 2010 Games were awarded to Vancouver and Whistler. But it’s not that simple.

A report on Olympic costs was presented last year, and specific Olympic costs are accounted for each year in the municipal budget. But last year’s budget contained only four lines related to the 2010 Games. They were: the Games Office (the municipal department dedicated to the Games), legal fees, hosting and gifting, and Games Reserve contributions.

In last year’s five year financial plan those costs totalled more than $850,000 in 2007, and were expected to climb to close to $2 million by 2010.

But, some would say, Whistler is now contributing $5 million to the cost of developing Lot 1/9 alone.

Keeping in mind that Whistler made a conscious decision to pursue the Olympics and knew that there would be “opportunity costs”, the important distinction here is interpreting what is an Olympic cost. As the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C. told Pique last fall, there is no right or wrong way of accounting for the Games. “At the end of the day… what one is always looking for is full disclosure of what is going on,” said Richard Rees. “If there are significant incremental ‘investments’… being made as a result of the opportunity (of the) Olympics, then it probably is reasonable to expect that they should own up to them.”

But to date, Whistler’s interpretation of Olympic costs has been rather abstemious . Thus the $1.5 million in last year’s budget for the Look and Feel program between 2008 and 2010 was “not an Olympic expense” but “a party expense.”

“It’s not an Olympic direct cost because it’s not inside the fence,” Mayor Ken Melamed said last fall. “It’s not required to put the Games on. It’s a way for us to take advantage of the marketing opportunity. So you could say this is more a marketing investment…. In this case we’re taking an opportunity around this party.”

There have been many “opportunities” like this. Last year’s budget showed more than $1 million for “volunteerism and community pride” between 2008 and 2011, and $475,000 for “community/volunteer engagement” between 2007 and 2010.

Council might also look back on some of the decisions it made last summer to take advantage of Olympic opportunities — decisions that in some cases council made prior to having all the information, in order to meet Olympic deadlines. At the top of this list would be the gymnasium in the high performance athletes’ centre, within the athletes’ village.

In June, when Whistler was asked to approve the development permit for the $6.3 million gym, the municipality was contributing $2 million to construction of the building, because it will be made available to local organizations and athletes. By mid-July, a few weeks after the permit had been issued, the revised cost of building the gym was $11.45 million. Moreover, Whistler was asked — and agreed — to contribute an additional $1.65 million toward construction costs.

Whistler is not going to own the gymnasium in the athletes’ centre after the Olympics; it will be managed by the Legacies Society, which will have representation from seven organizations, including the RMOW. But at the same meeting last year where council agreed to contribute a total of $3.65 million toward construction of the gym the statement was also made: “That the support of council be subject to the recognition that council has very serious concerns on the viability and ongoing operating costs for the Athletes’ Village High Performance Centre.”

So, the $3.65 million is not a direct Olympic cost, but the facility won’t truly belong to Whistler, either. Whistler’s will be one of seven voices that determine how the facility is operated, and Whistler is already concerned about the viability and operating costs of the athletes’ centre.

While the opportunity costs will always be subject to interpretation, the municipality’s direct Olympic costs should be readily detailed in the report to council. Specifically, Whistler’s 2010 Games Office should explain how its budget went from $652,000 annually, or a four year total of $2.6 million, in last year’s five year financial plan, to $3.535 million over four years in this year’s five year financial plan.

As Mr. Rees said, “At the end of the day… what one is always looking for is full disclosure of what is going on.”

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