Hotel tax initiative to be extended five years 

Whistler Centre for Sustainability, beneficiary of the tax, provided report that helped convince province to extend it

The Province of British Columbia is extending by five years the Resort Municipality Initiative, a program that provides resort communities with hotel tax.

Bill Barratt, chief administrative officer at the Resort Municipality of Whistler, spoke to Pique last week as the municipality was holding a press conference to recognize the province's contributions to tourism through the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI), which provides resort communities with finance, development and business promotion tools to enhance B.C.'s resort sector.

Up until last Thursday, it was believed the RMI would last until June 30, 2011, as the province held discussions with stakeholders about the Resort Municipality Transfer Tax (RMTT), as per the province's 2010 budget. The RMTT provides transfers to resort communities of anywhere between one per cent and four per cent of the eight per cent Provincial Hotel Room Tax generated in resort areas.

Those discussions appear to have been completed, as Barratt confirmed to Pique that the Resort Municipality Initiative has been extended for five years beyond 2011.

"There's actually no discussions," he said. "We've been informed that we're moving forward with our next five-year plan, past 2011.

"We've been told to submit our plans, I take that as an indication that it's going to continue."

Though the initiative has been extended, it is unclear what shape it will take. The 2010 budget stated that community input would be "carefully considered" in the design of a "future structure" of the additional hotel room tax program.

With the implementation of the HST, the eight per cent Hotel Room Tax ceases to exist, replaced by the 12 per cent HST. Transfers to Whistler and other resort communities will come out of the HST.

In an interview Thursday, Ben Stewart, B.C.'s minister of community and rural development, declined to confirm whether the RMI had been extended, but said an announcement was imminent.

He did, however, give assurances that Whistler would benefit from the initiative as it had before.

"It's still getting the same amount and it's guaranteed," Stewart said.

The Resort Municipality Transfer Tax is a key source of revenue for Whistler. It was used to fund all of the municipality's activities for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and it's helping to fund the RMOW's contribution towards the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, which totals $480,000 over four years.

The Centre for Sustainability, a beneficiary of the tax, has helped in obtaining an extension.

The provincial government commissioned the centre to work with 13 resort communities in B.C., including Whistler, to develop a monitoring and reporting system on each of their tourism development initiatives. It has completed a report that has been submitted to the provincial government - and that is believed to have given it the feedback to convince the government to extend the tax.

Stewart said at the press conference that, "Some of the early indications are that the resort municipalities that have the infrastructure funding are all at target and exceeding it in terms of our goal of doubling tourism by 2015."

While the Whistler Centre for Sustainability has done a report on the tax, it has also received funding from that tax. The Resort Municipality of Whistler provided the centre with $480,000 in hotel tax revenue.

Asked whether she sees a conflict in the centre's role reporting on the hotel tax, Executive Director Cheeying Ho said she "could not discuss the terms of a contract with a client."

Pique contacted the Ministry of Community and Rural Development with a request for comment. They were unable to return one by deadline.

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