Whistlerites had their last chance to publicly comment on the RMOW’s draft budget for 2013 at an open house Tuesday (Feb. 22), weeks before the financial plan is expected for adoption.
Around 30 members of the public attended the open house at Millennium Place, giving them a chance to speak with municipal staff responsible for drafting the five-year plan.
Overall, the response from attendees was positive, with many expressing their satisfaction that municipal staff recommended no increase to property taxes or utility fees for the second year in a row.
“I think people are quite pleased with the budget so far,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who met with some of the open house attendees before Tuesday’s scheduled council meeting. “There’s some suggestions about some additional things we can consider in 2014, but on the whole the comments are very positive.”
Many attendees also saw the level of transparency involved in this year’s budget drafting process, exemplified during the public meeting, as an improvement from Whistler’s last council.
“Here in the resort municipality I like transparency and it actually happens,” said retiree and local property owner Gunter Wenrel. “They’re very open. Since the last election there’s been a lot more transparency than ever before.”
Tuesday’s open house was the public’s third opportunity to learn about the 2013 budget and provide input to municipal staff. The municipality also considered further public comments obtained through PlaceSpeak, a community consultation platform used for the first time this year.
Municipal staff asked council to consider using $337,461 of its projected budget surplus to improve service delivery for Village maintenance, snow clearing services, parks sanitation, park operations, local geographical information systems, irrigation, turf and horticultural services and the Whistler Public Library, expected to open on Sundays if council approves the $60,000 funding recommendation. Staff recently added an additional recommendation for an increase of $10,000 to the municipal Community Enrichment Program, which provides funding for local non-profit organizations.
Understandably, many in attendance had an opinion on how council should spend the $363,000 surplus, like Toni Metcalf, a permanent Whistler resident since the summer who wants to see a larger focus placed on early childhood development.
“As the population grows and people are staying in Whistler that have families, I think there is a need to revisit zero to six-year-old initiatives for experiential developments,” said Metcalf, who has a two-year-old child with her husband. “It’s all about the cultural aspects like music development, language development, cognitive development, gross motor skills for kids. Based on what I’ve seen, there is a gap for that age group.”
Metcalf, who has a background in corporate finance, said she came to the open house mainly to get a better handle on the budget draft, and appreciated the opportunity to draw on municipal staff’s expertise.
Another attendee, Vancouverite and local rental property owner Ruth Tubbessing liked seeing the staff recommendation to invest $8,568 to restore snow-clearing service to previous levels, but wants the muni to extend this service to snow removal as well. She said her tenants have complained this winter over large snow piles preventing them from easily accessing their building.
Following the open house, the RMOW’s director of finance Ken Roggeman advised council of staff’s proposed budget guidelines, which included no property tax or utility fee hike and similar service levels to 2012 with certain service increases in specific instances.
While the public can still provide input on the budget through PlaceSpeak, the majority of work on the draft document is done, with no other major amendments expected.
“Unless there was something that was said at the open house (Tuesday) to staff that I’m not aware of, or unless there’s some burning comments that come in the next few days, I think we’re pretty much there,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
The RMOW’s five-year financial plan is expected to come before council for adoption at the March 19 council meeting.
Visit www.placespeak.com/topic/597-resort-municipality-of-whistler-2013-budget/ to give input on the budget, or www.whistler.ca/budget for more information.