School tax relief for Whistler 

Whistler homeowners are getting relief on their provincial school taxes this year, according to Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

"We’ve been able to come to an agreement (with the province) that will provide some relief to property owners in Whistler and more of that benefit will be provided to residents," said O’Reilly.

"So everyone will partake in some (relief) and the residents of Whistler will see an additional assistance, for many that haven’t been able to get it in the past."

The mayor could not divulge the details of the relief program before Pique’s press time on Wednesday night but he did say he was pleased with the solution, although it wasn’t perfect.

The announcement of relief, which was made Thursday, comes after the final authenticated tax roll indicated that the average single family home in Whistler would see an increase of 17 per cent in school taxes this year. That would mean a school tax bill on that average single family home of $2,681.

The school taxes jumped this year because property values also jumped and the school taxes are a function of property values. The assessment on the average residence in Whistler, including condominiums, townhouses, duplexes and single family homes, increased 32 per cent this year.

Rising property values mean that residents are faced with ever-increasing provincial school taxes, but their ability to pay those taxes doesn’t go up at the same rate.

This was the message the mayor and staff have being trying to convey to the province during their long lobby to get school tax relief.

The mayor said the province now understands the plight of the average residential homeowner in Whistler.

"I think that the province has really shown an understanding, specifically of the issue... It’s an issue of affordability and fairness," he said.

"So we’ve been able to find a program that we think will lend itself to helping specifically the residents of Whistler. They’ll be the biggest participants of this."

The school tax rate applies to the whole Howe Sound School District, from Squamish to D’Arcy. Because property values in Whistler are so high, homeowners here shoulder the bulk of the burden of school taxes for the district. Last year Whistler contributed 88 per cent of the school taxes for the district.

Those taxes are also reflected in the rent many tenants pay to landlords.

This isn’t the first time the province has granted school tax relief. Relief was granted to Tofino homeowners after an amendment to the 2002 provincial budget.

As such, Tofino homeowners there were given their own stand alone school tax rate, separate from the rest of their school district. The result was a 52 per cent reduction on the average residential school bill after the Home Owners Grant (HOG) was applied.

The school tax problem has been exacerbated in Whistler this year because property values have climbed so high that there is no single family home in the resort that can qualify for the HOG. The HOG credit is applied to homes assessed at less than $525,000.

The mayor would not say if an increased cap on the HOG was part of the new solution for Whistler residents, which is a solution long argued by Whistler residents.

Whatever the solution, it falls in line with council’s priorities for the year.

At part of their four key deliverables for 2003 Whistler council choose to focus on completing Whistler. It’s Our Future , tackling affordability and affordable housing, achieving financial sustainability and strengthening relations with the provincial government.

School tax relief will tackle two of those top priorities, namely affordability in the resort and improving provincial ties.

The mayor hastens to add that the hard work in achieving tax relief has been underway for some time, not just through the present council.

"These things take time but it’s great to be here when we’re finally going to see some of it come to fruition," he said.

The province, represented by West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling, and the municipality jointly announced the details of the relief program on Thursday, May 15 at municipal hall.

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