When it rains, somebody once said, it pours. Which means that city leaders must feel as though they are standing in the middle of a hurricane without a rain coat.
With shrinking budgets and revenue streams that show little sign of growing, the City of Vancouver is faced with an endless need to prioritize the requirements of citizens and to assess where to logically spend money.
This, of course, should always be the job of government, but it becomes particularly difficult in stringent economic times. All of which brings us to the issue of the Renaissance Trail.
A popular paved hiking path nestled along the Columbia River between the Interstate 5 bridge and Wintler Park, the Renaissance Trail has been a shadow of itself since last summer. In June, a section of the trail was washed away by flood-level waters. As Columbian reporter Andrea Damewood wrote in a recent article, “In one section, the bank has cut completely underneath and destabilized the concrete path.”
While a swath of the trail has been an eyesore for local residents and a hazard for those who use it, there apparently is no solution in sight.
“We are proceeding with trying to tackle this program, and tough decisions will need to be made,” Parks Director Pete Mayer told The Columbian. “Things of this nature are not inexpensive to fix.”
According to Damewood’s article, Mayer estimated that the geotechnical assessments and initial design work on repairing the trail would cost between $100,000 and $200,000. By comparison, because of a $425,000 shortfall in the fire department’s budget, an entire medical rescue unit was eliminated.
That illuminates the conundrum surrounding the Renaissance Trail repair. Guess what: The money’s not there. The city in the past year has reduced staff by 20 percent and has announced a 10 percent reduction in the Parks and Recreation department budget.
While we can empathize with residents who live near the washed-out portion of the trail, we turn to Webster as we consider the situation, learning that one of the definitions of priorities is, “A preferential rating, especially one that allocates rights to goods and services usually in limited supply.”
Goodness knows, money is in limited supply these days, for citizens as well as governments. Given the cuts that have been made elsewhere, it’s difficult to assign the Renaissance Trail a high-priority status.
Not that the city always has its priorities in the right place. As we have written recently in editorials, situations such as this point out the short-sighted decision from the city council to give city manager Eric Holmes a 3.5 percent pay raise.
Considering the popularity of the Renaissance Trail and the fact that it is one of the landmarks that helps give Vancouver an identity, we think that it should rank higher on the priority list than raises for city officials at this point in time. But, considering the current economic realities, the city would be in error to prioritize the trail above more pressing needs.
That said, we must concur with one of the complaints of residents who live near the affected portion of the trail: People are still using the path, and to avoid barriers that have been set up by the city, they often trespass and trample nearby landscaping. This is an act of selfishness, and we encourage those who insist upon using the trail to be good citizens and conscientious neighbors.
For now, we recommend that walkers and runners use the portion of the trail that remains intact, remaining hopeful that sooner or later the sun will shine again on the city government’s finances.