IN THE HOUSE ~ OLYMPIC COSTS VANOC boosts budget to $1.76-billion

IDN: 090310218
DATE: 2009.01.31
SECTION: National News

OLYMPIC COSTS VANOC boosts budget to $1.76-billion

VANCOUVER Organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics extolled the event as a stimulus to the province's stuttering economy yesterday, as they unveiled a revised, $1.76-billion operating budget to carry them through the next 12 months to the Games.

"We are employing people, we're investing in the economy, people from around the world are investing here," said VANOC executive vice-president Dave Cobb, who noted that the organization expects to spend $1.3-billion during the coming year. "I think the money we generate from the private sector and invest back in British Columbia to put the Games on is a job creator and a wealth creator in our province at a challenging time." The new budget, which is balanced and contains spending cuts, projected revenue boosts and an enhanced contingency fund to cope with ongoing financial uncertainties, comes at a time when British Columbians are increasingly skeptical about the worth of staging the Games.

A recent poll conducted by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press found that just 52 per cent of B.C. residents surveyed thought that the benefits of the Games outweighed the drawbacks. The figure for all of Canada was 72 per cent.

At the same time, the huge expense of providing security for the Games, expected to be close to $1-billion, has yet to be disclosed.

"As far as taxpayers are concerned, that's the elephant in the corner of the room," said federal NDP Olympic critic Peter Julian.

Provincial NDP Leader Carole James also hit on the overall cost of the Games, beyond the immediate VANOC budget. The NDP has been critical that such Olympics-related projects as the widened Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler, the rapid transit line to and from the Vancouver airport and the provincial Olympic Games Secretariat are not included as part of Olympic spending by the B.C. government.

Ms. James said the government is building skepticism and cynicism over the Olympics by refusing to be up-front about the overall cost to taxpayers.

The updated VANOC budget is the results of several months' hard work and a line-by-line review of all anticipated spending and revenue for the Olympics, brought on by the rapid downturn in the economy, said CEO John Furlong.

To that end, among other measures, VANOC has erased planned medal ceremonies in Whistler's central plaza to save $5-million, shaved salary increases and hiring plans to realize $12.9-million in reduced costs, and streamlined technology services for a saving of $6.6-million.

All in all, VANOC has managed to add an extra $27-million to its contingency fund to cover potential revenue shortfalls over the next year because of the economy.

The final budget is up $127-million over VANOC's last budget in 2007, but officials attributed that to accounting moves to provide for the organization's complicated role as a "middleman" purchaser of services that are then passed on and paid for by private sponsors.

"The net impact is zero," Mr. Cobb said. "The cost of the Games has not increased."