Utility rates expected to rise next year 

But budget amendments common, says general manager of economic viability

Water rates will likely increase by $60 next year, since current water rates are too low, said Lisa Landry, general manager of economic viability for the municipality this week.

In fact disproportionate water rates was one of the 30 items that drove the budget amendment that council gave third reading last weekend with a 5-2 vote.

“What was coming to light with this particular budget was the fact that water rates have been too low,” said Landry.

“If we do end up going over budget (this year), we do have a bit of funds in the water surplus, so we’ll probably use that if there is an amount that we need to deal with in 2008. Then, in 2009 we are going to do some math about how much that increase needs to be, and it is looking in the order of $60.”

Landry said budget amendments have been done in the past, usually after the municipality gets more information or more refined estimates on what their costs for the year will be.

In July, municipal staff first reported that the water utility has been running at a loss for several years. In 2005, Whistler’s water utility shortfall was around $100,000. In 2006, the imbalance rose to $320,000, and last year the water utility operated at a $370,000 loss.

At that time Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services for the municipality, reported that Whistler’s water rates rest around $87 annually, compared to the Canadian average of $274.

Other utilities in Whistler — sewer and water user fees and parcel taxes — were increased this year by a total of $91, from $618 in 2007 to $709 in 2008. Landry said because utilities use a lot of electricity to operate, their costs have been going up recently.

Other items changed in last week’s five-year financial plan amendment included an increase of $5 million in general capital spending in 2008.

Specifically, $2.6 million was moved from 2011 to 2008 to pay for construction of the Whistler Celebration Plaza, currently being constructed on Lots 1/9 near the Brew House and Whistler Health Care Centre in the village. The amount did not change, just the timing.

Another $500,000 was moved from the 2010 to the 2008 budget for costs associated with the upgrades to the day-skier parking lots. Again, only the timing of the project changed.

And a $2.9 million increase was made to the 2008 budget for parkland acquisition, approved by council last summer.

Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden questioned several of the budget changes during last week’s council meeting, including the $5 million increase in capital spending for 2008.

This week, to make sure that the public understood the budget changes, Councillor Bob Lorriman wrote a letter to Whistler’s newspapers, including Pique Newsmagazine , explaining the new numbers.

“I just thought I would follow up with a letter to sort of explain to people that this amendment is just really about bringing things in line,” said Lorriman.

“The other items were just things we moved from one year to the next but still require us to have an amendment to the budget.”


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