Clark County commissioners scrap parking fees at parks, boat launches

Madore, Mielke vote in favor, with Stuart opposed; general fund will make up for lost revenue

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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It's free to park at Clark County's parks and boat launches after Clark County commissioners approved the removal of the fees by a 2-1 vote Tuesday night.

At the end of a meeting that lasted just over three hours, Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke voted in favor of a resolution that removes parking fees from Frenchman's Bar Park, Lewisville Regional Park, Vancouver Lake Park, Salmon Creek/Klineline Pond, Daybreak Park & Boat Launch and Haapa Boat Launch.

Commissioner Steve Stuart voted against the resolution after offering up four proposed amendments that each died with no second vote.

Stuart said he was trying to get to the heart of the "problem we are trying to solve" by removing the barrier of access to parks for those who would otherwise not be able to afford it. He also said he was trying to protect the general fund from the cost of the resolution.

As the resolution was proposed, and eventually approved, the general fund will pay for the $325,000 annual shortfall that will result from the removal of parking fees.

Those parking fees ranged from $2 to $8.

Stuart offered up an amendment to wait for savings to come through a renegotiated interlocal agreement between the county and the city of Vancouver for operating its parks program.

Stuart said, "If the true goal of this is to help, and if there is support for actually being stewards of the general fund and not using general fund but instead using savings, and not shifting the burden onto our taxpayers," then the board should wait until Jan. 1, 2014, to implement the removal of fees.

When that amendment died after neither Madore nor Mielke seconded it, Stuart tried again with an amendment to offer only free parking for those who fall below an income threshold. That motion died as well.

Further amendments were offered by Stuart to remove boat launches or certain parks from the resolution. But they, too, fell on deaf ears.

By the end of his efforts, Stuart said he was frustrated by the lack of compromise his fellow commissioners exhibited. He said his efforts were made in an effort to minimize the impact to the general fund while still fulfilling the intent of the proposal originally brought forth by Madore.

The proposal to eliminate fees at county parks originated from Madore's campaign promises, and he had worked for the past three months to get his fellow commissioners on board with his vision.

He repeated the main goal of the move again on Tuesday night, saying, "it is a quality of life issue."

"The idea here is to restore the free use of our parks to those citizens who are right now deterred from using them," he said.

Madore has also said the county parks were a major selling point for him when he chose to relocate his business to the area. And he's of the belief that free, open parks will serve as a type of marketing message for the region to potential job creators.

Mielke said he supported the resolution because four of the six parks with parking fees are in his district, and he was looking for "fairness."

When Stuart suggested commissioners keep fees at some parks, Mielke said he was more apt to add parking fees to all parks rather than pick and choose.

The parking fees are removed effective immediately. The county intends to offer refunds to those who paid for season parking passes, and will advertise how to receive a refund.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;erik.hidle@columbian.com.