town hall 

There weren’t as many people as last year — only about 170, including staff, compared to 250 in 1996 — but Saturday’s town hall meeting was in administrator Jim Godfrey’s words, "the kick off to the vision process." Those who skipped a day of skiing or riding to take part in this year’s town hall meeting dealt with issues from the municipality’s recently released Whistler 2002 workbook. The workbook, which is available from municipal hall, is part of the vision process Whistler council and staff have been working on for the past 11 months. The intent is to come up with a vision for Whistler for the next five years, a period during which Whistler will reach buildout and will have to find new ways to become economically sustainable. Public input into the process is encouraged, and the town hall meeting was the first public opportunity for full and part-time residents to have their say. The results of Saturday’s session, where participants gathered round tables and discussed statements and directions in the workbook, would suggest most of the community and municipal hall are thinking along the same lines. Questions were raised with regard to how specific issues or projects would fit into the vision presented, but generally there was support for most of the document. One area where there was some discussion was in the suggestion that local government should be "an entrepreneurial partner." Some people were concerned about municipal hall thinking of itself as a corporation, rather than a government, here to serve its constituents. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly commented at Monday’s council meeting that council and staff need to do a better job explaining what they mean by becoming "more entrepreneurial." One of the surprises of the town hall meeting was that for the first time in the four years town hall meetings have been held, there was some discussion of raising the ceiling on development in Whistler. One table, which had a number of participants under 34, suggested that the cap on development may limit their opportunities in Whistler. Resort consultant Myles Rademan, who spoke before the workshop sessions began, touched on the same issue when he said the greatest challenge facing Whistler is what to do when growth stops. According to the latest projections, Whistler will reach buildout by 2003. That will mean, among other things, a huge reduction in income for the municipality. Getting the province to share some of the tax revenue it realizes from Whistler is part of the municipality’s strategy to offset that loss of income. The municipality plans to organize a number of focus groups over the next 2-3 months to reach those who didn’t participate in Saturday’s workshop, in particular youths. Focus groups will also be held with seniors, perhaps with second home owners in the Lower Mainland, and in Whistler living rooms with local residents. Individuals are encouraged to fill out the workbook and return it to municipal hall. Feedback from the focus groups and from workbooks will be checked against a phone survey before the final vision for 2002 is formulated. In the future, Godfrey said, the town hall meeting will be used to report annually on where the municipality is in its five year plan. As Rademan said, civic dialogue is the basis of democracy. There have to be opportunities for people to participate. The workbook and the vision process are one such opportunity.

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