Firefighters volunteer to upgrade fire hall 

Whistler's firefighters are volunteering to upgrade Whistler Village's fire hall in their free time.

Fire Chief Rob Whitton explained this week that the Whistler Fire Rescue Service's two new trucks fit on the left hand side of the village fire hall, but they are too long to fit in the centre bay.

Originally, the fire department was planning to spend $10,000 on a minor renovation project to widen the doors on the left hand side of the hall for the trucks. But Whitton said the trucks are often kept in the centre bay.

But the fire fighters' union has now come up with a creative solution to solve the problem.

"The union stated they were well aware of the budget allotment and they had a lot of qualified members that would like to donate their time and take the project on," Whitton told council on Tuesday.

Whitton said of Whistler's 21 career firefighters, four are ticketed electricians, about six are certified in framing and carpentry, and several others are general handymen.

He said all construction work is totally voluntary, and wherever required, other qualified trades people will do necessary work. The department will get all the necessary permits from the municipality.

Whitton added the voluntary project has not created a division among the firefighters. He said, however, "some people are opposed to it and think someone else should do it."

Acting mayor Chris Quinlan congratulated the fire chief on the volunteer project.

"Congratulations to the members who have come forward and volunteered their time for us," said Quinlan. "I know our staff has checked to make sure we are covered liability wise."

The Spring Creek Fire Hall doesn't need to be upgraded for the new trucks, which together cost $1.5 million, since the southern hall was built to more modern standards.

RMOW addresses HST concerns

Will the harmonized sales tax impact the municipality's income?

That question took a front seat at Tuesday night's council meeting, with general manager of economic viability Lisa Landry speaking point-blank about the controversial issue.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler currently receives six per cent of the province's 10 per cent tax on hotel rooms, explained Landry, which amounts to about $11 million a year in revenue.

But, once the harmonized sales tax (HST) kicks in next summer, the total hotel tax the province collects in Whistler will drop from 10 per cent to seven per cent.

Landry said at this point the provincial government has told her that the change to HST will not negatively impact Whistler's hotel tax, although a new formula to divide up the money hasn't been calculated yet.

"I spoke to the Ministry of Community and Rural Development, and they assured us this does not adversely affect municipalities," said Landry. "When I called the Ministry of Finance, they did agree that the municipality should not be impacted."

The Ministry of Finance told Landry they are considering two options to divide up the money, and they will put out a request to affected municipalities in the next couple of weeks.

"Their intent is to wrestle that to the ground in the fall," she said.

Landry added, however, the municipality needs to proactively express their concerns to the provincial government - and needs to coordinate its efforts with Tourism Whistler and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

During Tuesday's meeting, acting mayor Chris Quinlan added that he understands the HST is coming to British Columbia no matter what, and as a result Whistler needs to find a way to make the new tax work to its benefit.

"I think our energy would be best directed towards finding a solution that would have the least impact on our resort and community," said Quinlan.

On July 1, 2010, the province's seven per cent sales tax will be combined with the federal government's five per cent goods and service tax. As a result consumers will pay more tax on several goods and services currently exempt from the provincial sales tax, including restaurant meals, ski passes, and taxi rides.

The municipality currently receives the hotel tax in an agreement with the province that expires in 2011. However, senior staff members at the municipality have said in the past the tax agreement is expected to be extended.

Pay parking on TAG agenda

Whistler's Transportation Advisory Group will dive into the pay parking dilemma during their meeting on Aug. 24.

During Tuesday's public council meeting, bylaw officer Sandra Smith told councillors one of the items up for discussion at the TAG meeting is how much the municipality should charge for each of its lots.

She said the municipality wants the rates to be "more user friendly towards the different groups in Whistler."

Meanwhile, Smith said the municipality is forging ahead with the comprehensive parking strategy council asked for during July's heated public meeting.

"We are basing most of our information on a study done in 2004, which outlines all of our inventory and usage within our different parking lots," said Smith.

"We have also engaged consultation with two of the private parking companies that operate in Whistler to understand what their lot utilization and rates are. We understand that once we implement pay parking, we are really competing with them. We want to make sure we are consistent with our rates."

Among other things, the municipality is monitoring parking patterns in the day skier lots three times a day, as well as along Blackcomb Way and on the Benchlands. Best practices at other ski resorts like Vail, Aspen, Big White and Sun Peaks are also being reviewed, she said.

Smith's update comes one month after more than 100 angry community members attended a council meeting to let councillors know they are unhappy with the plan to install pay parking at the Telus Conference Centre and the day skier lots.

Illegal suites found in White Gold home

On the outside the house at 7201 Fitzsimmons Road might look like all the others on the block, but on the inside it contains more than four non-conforming bedrooms.

According to Joe Mooney, manager of building services, the municipality entered the house in White Gold in 2007 and discovered the illegal renovations.

Specifically, they found a crawl space being turned into a bedroom, bedrooms built in the attic, a den converted into a bedroom, and a two-bedroom suite divided into two single-bedroom units.

At the time, Assistant Fire Chief Geoff Playfair asked the owner of the house to remove all the illegal upgrades. Several months later, the owner replied in a letter that most of the changes had been made and the house brought back to code, and they believed they were allowed to have two auxiliary suites on the property.

Mooney said the municipality checked their bylaws and found that wasn't actually the case.

In the spring of 2008, Mooney and another inspector entered the property. They found that the crawl space and attics had been developed, but no tenants were living in the spaces.

Mooney added the owner didn't let the two inspectors into the auxiliary suite, saying they didn't have a key and tenants were living there.

During a show cause hearing on Tuesday night, Whistler councillors decided to place a notice on the property. All five councillors present said the owner was clearly in contravention of the municipality's bylaws and expressed concerns about safety.

The owner of the property didn't attend the meeting.

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