Total tax bill up over three per cent 

Businesses and residents opening their property tax notices this week will have noticed another jump in their bill this year, the second straight increase in the RMOW's overall three-year plan to balance the budget.

In early 2009 council voted to raise taxes 20 per cent - eight per cent in 2009, seven per cent in 2010 and roughly five per cent in 2011 - to make up for an estimated shortfall of $5.7 million. That's after a blue ribbon panel of 10 economic experts reviewed municipal finances in 2008 when the municipality was faced with a 17 per cent increase. In the end they increased taxes by just 5.5 per cent.

For a Whistler Housing Authority unit assessed at $336,000 the total tax bill for 2010, including service fees, was $1,754 with the maximum Home Owner Grant of $570. That's up from a total of $1,652.32 in 2009, $1,508.99 in 2008 and $1,329.82 in 2007 for the same property.

That's a jump of almost $425 over four years, or 31 per cent, during which time the assessed value for the home increased from $321,000 to $336,000.

Most of the increase between 2009 and 2010 is the result of the general municipal tax increase, from $713.54 to $789. Fees for the composter, sewer and water were the same as in 2009, although there were small increases for the provincial taxes - School District (up $19.32) B.C. Assessment Authority (up $2), Hospital District (up $4.24) and Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (up $1.44).

The Home Owner Grant increased from a maximum of $562.80 in 2009 to $570 in 2010.

Lisa Landry, chief financial officer for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said that provincial taxes remained generally the same as last year while municipal taxes were up seven per cent. Given that provincial taxes represent half the property tax bill, overall the bills are up around three per cent over last year.

Fees for sewage, water and waste were kept the same, although the cost of providing those services likely increased.

"We are cognizant of the fact that property taxes are up seven per cent, so we took that into consideration for the whole property tax bill," explained Landry. "It's all in one cheque that people write, so we keep in mind the cumulative impact of what the province is doing, taxes and fees when we make the decision."

The budget is evaluated year by year, but Landry says she hasn't seen anything yet that would lead her to believe that the increase in 2011 will be more than the forecast of five per cent.

Steve Bayly, who owns and rents commercial properties in Function Junction, believes the increases will make things more difficult for business owners that already pay tax rates approximately three and a half times the residential rates.

"I don't think government, and especially municipal government, understand how much financial pressure that businesses are under right now," he said. "It's tough out there, and it's tough to meet those extra costs.

"It comes out of the bottom line and some businesses will be devastated by it."

As a landlord, Bayly passes tax increases along to his tenants through a triple net rent structure.

"They bear the costs in the short terms, but I bear them in the longer term because businesses are less apt to rent or can only afford to rent for less," he said, adding that some people will be less inclined to go into business if the profit margins are eaten up by taxes.

And if businesses go under - something he believes is a possibility in the current economic climate - landlords end up paying taxes on vacant properties for longer periods of time. Bayly says the municipality has to weigh the needs of businesses and residents against their own expenses.

"There's a disconnect. I just don't think the RMOW understands that their spending has a real impact on people and businesses. It's hard out there for a lot of businesses, and it's very hard to take on these increases when you're already suffering."

Bayly doesn't know the situation for all businesses and properties in Whistler, but he estimates the average business in Function Junction pays as much as $4 per square foot in taxes each year.

To qualify for a Home Owner grant, which represents a maximum of $570 in 2010, a property must be your primary residence. You can collect the maximum, deducted from all property taxes are due on July 2 this year. There is a five per cent penalty for late payments on the full amount, not including the Home Owner Grant, followed by another five per cent penalty after 90 days.



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