SLRD budget marks big increase for Whistler 

Regional growth strategy boosts budget by $300,000

Whistler’s financial contribution to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District will increase by almost 38 per cent this year.

That translates to roughly a one per cent increase on individual taxpayers’ bills in Whistler.

The increase was part of the 2004 Squamish-Lillooet Regional District budget that was presented at Monday’s monthly meeting.

Whistler’s Mayor Hugh O’Reilly supported the budget even though the budget is increasing on the whole from $1.6 million to $1.9 million.

Most of those increases will go towards the development of the regional growth strategy as well as general government services.

"It’s really a very defensive mode in my opinion," said O’Reilly after the meeting.

"There’s a lot of activity in the corridor, which even though it’s outside our boundaries, (it) potentially has a lot of impact on Whistler. And so I think it’s necessary that the regional district be resourced to effectively deal with all those applications."

But there were a number of directors at the board table who would not support the budget.

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland only threw his support behind the budget at the 11 th hour, ultimately tipping the scales and getting it passed in time.

At first Sutherland said he could not take a 5.4 per cent increase in Squamish’s SLRD contribution back to the Squamish council when that council has been trying hard to balance its own budget.

O’Reilly said he could appreciate Sutherland’s concerns, especially in light of the massive increase to Whistler’s SLRD contribution, but he sees the regional growth strategy as a key priority.

The SLRD has been putting off the regional growth strategy for the past seven years and it’s not getting any cheaper he said.

"If we don’t manage it, it’s going to get managed for us," said O’Reilly.

He encouraged board members to look at it as a one off investment for the future.

When SLRD staff found a provincial contribution for the growth strategy to the budget, the numbers changed enough to sway Sutherland and the vote.

With the $60,000 provincial grant, Squamish’s contribution to the SLRD will only increase 3.8 per cent over last year.

"With the revised numbers I can support it because the regional growth is important," said Sutherland.

Sutherland’s vote counts as four at the board table and the final vote was 13 to six in favour of approving the budget.

Directors Mickey Macri from Area B, Russ Oakley from Area A and Raj Kahlon from Squamish council all voted against the budget.

Kahlon said the budget was not sensitive to taxpayers and as such he would not support it.

Whistler contributes more to the SLRD budget than any other jurisdiction because contributions are based on the total property assessments for each area, and Whistler has the highest assessments in the region.

Overall Whistler’s contribution jumped from $500,000 to just under $700,000 this year.

After the meeting O’Reilly said that he has been in discussions with Sutherland to work at finding new efficiencies within the regional district and ways the various municipalities can help the SLRD deliver its services more effectively.

"We have to start streamlining because we just can’t keep accepting this kind of injection because we’re carrying most of the burden," he said.

The regional growth strategy is budgeted at about $600,000 over the next two years. Whistler will contribute more than $175,000 to that total.

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