Lot 4 paving deal deferred again 

Council looks to staff for cost cutting compromises

Council has once again deferred making a decision about paving Lot 4 in the day skier parking area.

At Tuesday's meeting it referred the matter back to staff for the second time, this time to see if there is any way to cut costs in the $1.3 million project, more than half of which will be paid for by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC). The municipality must come to the table with $625,000 and council's indecision is indicative of the sensitivity around any unplanned capital spending this year - a year when municipal property taxes have gone up eight per cent.

VANOC is offering the money because it needs to upgrade Lot 4 for the Games and the pot-holed gravel surface that is currently there will not do for its purposes as Whistler's main transportation hub.

"My mother used to say 'you don't look a gift horse in the mouth," said Councillor Tom Thomson, who then compared VANOC to an old grey mare.

He has supported the deal both times it was before council. Each time Thomson highlighted the shoddy conditions of the parking lots and how they are not consistent with the "Whistler experience," particularly for the rubber tire traffic, which the resort is learning to rely on more and more.

Delivering that so-called "Whistler experience" however, has a cost. That cost is something the municipality must wrap its head around, insisted Councillor Eckhard Zeidler.

"This is the kind of attitude that gets us in trouble," said Zeidler.

At issue for Zeidler, and some of the other councillors, is how the municipality will pay for its $625,000 portion of the project.

Staff is proposing it take money from the contingency fund out of the paving project now underway for Day Skier Lots 1, 2 and 3. Costs for that project, budgeted at $4.6 million, are less than projected.

Any unspent money in that contingency is to go back into municipal savings at the end of the project.

Councillor Ted Milner said he gets the feeling that whenever the municipality finds extra money, it decides to spend it.

"I really think that we need to find a little discipline," he said.

Putting a personal spin on the argument, Councillor Ralph Forsyth said he would love to put solar panels on his house and realize the long-term cost savings from that investment.

"I just can't afford it, so I don't spend the money," he said.

Mayor Ken Melamed highlighted both sides of the argument.

"I too am concerned that as soon as we find some money, we spend it," he said.

At the same time, VANOC has made the deal appealing.

"I can see the benefit of taking advantage of this one time opportunity from VANOC," said Melamed.

One of the things that tipped the balance for the mayor was assurance from staff that representatives of Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce all supported the deal to pave Lot 4.

"Some significant taxpayers in town have expressed support," said the mayor.

Lot 4 is slated to remain free parking even if it is paved. Lots 1 to 3 will become paid parking lots in June 2010, and are expected to bring in more than $2 million annually.

That money will go back into municipal reserves to pay off the capital expenditure to pave the lots.

At the conclusion of its debate council asked staff to report back with potential ways to reduce costs, and therefore the municipality's contribution, to the project.

One option discussed at the meeting is to do the underground work for lighting Lot 4 but leave the above-ground work to be completed at a later date.

There is $400,000 in the lighting budget. By completing just the underground portion of the work, staff estimates it could save roughly $200,000.

Councillors Forsyth and Zeidler opposed the decision to send the issue back to staff to look for cost cutting compromises on the site. A third report is expected to come back to council at the next meeting.

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