Taxpayer questions council on Olympic spending 

Third reading to five year financial plan

By Alison Taylor

One local taxpayer is questioning council’s Olympic spending on the eve of the latest municipal five-year financial plan becoming law.

Brian Buchholz stood before council during Monday’s public question and answer period and commented on what he sees as escalating Olympic costs.

“There’s no specific angst, just a concern that the numbers are going up,” explained Buchholz the following day.

“It’s just this underlying unknown that I have, and I try to keep informed… of what it is we’re spending, where it’s coming from, when it will end, and are we missing other opportunities because so much of the money is going towards (the Olympics).”

One year ago Buchholz asked the same questions of council, and while there are specific Olympic costs detailed in the budget, there are still some unknowns.

In response to some of his questions Monday, Mayor Ken Melamed explained that the monies for Olympic expenses come from a variety of sources including the hotel tax, from partners and from existing budgets.

“We’re certainly not being spendthrift,” said the mayor.

“(But) there will be significant funds spent to leverage this opportunity.”

He reiterated that the municipality promised taxpayers it would not put the community at long-term financial risk. Unlike the province and the federal governments, which committed a set monetary figure during the bid phase, Whistler never pinpointed a dollar figure it would spend on the Games.

“What we decided to do was leave it at a principles basis,” said Melamed, after the meeting.

“We knew there were a whole bunch of unanswered questions (such as the Paralympic arena and the athletes’ village) and rather than trying to fix an imaginary budget number at the outset, we chose to approach it this way.”

The municipality’s financial plan outlines a $1.3 million expenditure on the Olympics this year. That number grows to $4.5 million in 2010.

Among other things that money pays for the 2010 Games Office, 2010 gifts/hosting, the Vancouver Olympic office, and 2010 community participation.

“The councillors all seem confident and I have some satisfaction in their confidence that it’s going in the right direction,” said Buchholz.

The Five Year Financial Plan was moved along in the approvals process Monday but two councillors expressed their opposition to the plan.

Councillors Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and Eckhard Zeidler opposed the plan because it included an amendment to allow the $750,000 tax exemption for Whistler-Blackcomb’s proposed Peak to Peak gondola.

Councillor Tim Wake also commented on the lack of public feedback on the budgeting process. He said he would like to look at options of engaging the community for the next budget process.

Only three members of the public officially commented on the plan and no one attended the open house before Monday’s meeting.

For a copy of the plan go to www.whistler.ca.

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