Whistler Council adopted an updated Five-Year Financial Plan 2020 – 2024 (2020 budget) at its meeting May 5 following a thorough review of operations and projects against the backdrop of COVID-19’s short and longer term impacts to the community. The overall 2020 budget for the municipality was reduced from $97 million to $86 million. Council also adopted tax and fee bylaws, as well as changes to the penalty date for residential property taxes.
“The planning context at the time Council originally adopted the 2020 budget has changed considerably, and our plans for the community must be adjusted to consider the realities of this new environment,” stated Mayor Jack Crompton. “At this time we need to shift our focus to community health and safety, stability and economic recovery, while not losing sight of the importance of maintaining our assets into the future.”
The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) anticipates that non-tax revenues may be up to $11 million less than previously expected in 2020. These reduced revenue expectations consider building permits, parking fees, recreation closures and cancellations, transit revenues, investment income, works and services charges as well as Municipal Regional District Tax (MRDT or hotel tax). Other revenue sources for the RMOW not expected to change significantly include property taxes, Resort Municipality Initiative funding, and provincial and federal grants.
These reduced revenue expectations result in a substantial reduction in reserve (RMOW savings account) contributions below what was originally planned for 2020. The approach to the 2020 budget will impact 2021 and beyond, and it is a focus for RMOW to continue looking at reserve levels to maintain the integrity of RMOW assets into the future such as roads, water supply and parks.
The RMOW has made changes to its operating structure where possible and prudent. It has removed as much spending as it can practically manage in 2020 while maintaining most municipal services to support the community. Cuts include the layoff of 224 casual and auxiliary staff, reducing the number and duration of term positions in 2020, and a commitment to leaving vacant positions unfilled wherever possible. In addition, there have been reductions to non-payroll operating expenses where possible and where contracts allow.
In the area of capital spending, 96 of 164 projects have been amended, with total 2020 proposed project spending reduced by $12.2 million (from $45.3 million to $33.1 million).
Many 2020 projects have been deferred to 2021 and beyond, and projects will be reviewed again as part of the 2021 budget process when a better understanding of the total financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis is expected. The complete 2020 projects list is available here.
Many factors were considered in reviewing projects and the budget overall:
- Degree of risk to essential services
- Degree of risk to community safety
- Significance to environmental priorities
- Financial health of the municipality
- Consideration to supporting /sustaining underlying economic activity at this time
- Readiness to respond to the restart of the tourism economy
The 2020 tax rate and fee bylaws were also adopted including the previously contemplated 2.8 per cent property tax increase, along with 2 per cent increases to sewer and water parcel taxes and sewer, water, and solid waste fees. General municipal tax will increase by $72 for a residential property valued at $1.5 million plus $24 on utilities. For a commercial property valued at $1 million, general municipal tax would increase $137 plus $24 on utilities.
Provincial programs now in place are easing tax impacts for Whistler commercial property owners with a 21.4 per cent reduction in commercial property taxes through reduced provincial school taxes. For a commercial property valued at $1 million whose value increased in line with community averages, the provincial savings amounts to a $2,572 decline in school tax from 2019. For residential property owners, the provincial Home Owner’s Grant may reduce the amount of property tax owners pay on their primary residence, and the provincial property tax deferral program may provide additional relief for qualified homeowners.
Council also approved an alternative municipal tax collection scheme bylaw that aligns the penalty date for residential tax classes in Whistler with the provincial date for commercial classes of October 1. This provides an extra three months for Whistlerites to pay their taxes before incurring a late payment penalty. RMOW also has a monthly payment plan that property owners can consider in planning ahead for future year tax payments.
“Council is aware of the very real impacts to individuals and businesses in Whistler, and our goal is to find the right balance of maintaining core municipal services while adjusting to and supporting the current needs of the community,” added the Mayor. “We need to practice fiscal prudence and ensure Whistler is ready to welcome visitors back when the time comes.”
The updated budget still includes select spending on guest experience items, and maintenance of resort products, so the resort can be in a stronger position when guests return. The RMOW and other resort partners are in ongoing discussions about responses to tourism recovery and more news will be shared in the coming weeks and months as changes to provincial and federal orders around safe behaviour, business operations and travel emerge.
The RMOW Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was activated on March 15, 2020 to coordinate the RMOW’s response to COVID-19 and, since then, the majority of RMOW activities have
been focused on COVID-19 and the continuation of essential municipal services. While most municipal programs and services are now back on-line, facilities such as Meadow Park Sports Centre and the Whistler Public Library remain closed. As part of its pandemic response, the RMOW has provided assistance to various community programs and has redeployed staff to the Whistler Food Bank.
To learn more, visit whistler.ca/budget.