Who would've thought arch-conservative David Madore would support socialized parks? And yet that's essentially what the new Clark County commissioner has done (with the support of Commissioner Tom Mielke) by removing parking fees from parks and shifting that annual funding burden of $325,000 to the county's general fund.In austere financial times, indigent governments should have more user fees, not fewer. The more government can get those who use a service to pay for that service, the better off we all are. It's strange that Madore and Mielke don't understand this basic principle. (County Commissioner Steve Stuart opposed the measure. None of his four amendments — with the intention of "not shifting the burden onto our taxpayers" — drew a second.) Are there other user fees that Madore intends to eliminate? Other costs he expects the general fund to absorb?
We also wonder why Madore and Mielke ignored the advice from an objective, respected and fiscally astute source: County Auditor Greg Kimsey. At Tuesday night's meeting, he advised against dropping the parking fees. Kimsey, 15 years in office and unopposed in elections for more than a decade, gave county commissioners three solid reasons for his recommendation, and he repeated those points in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"First, it's appropriate that whoever parks at these parks pays, as a direct user," Kimsey says.
Also, there is the practical business angle, which Madore, a successful businessman, ought to embrace. "The county does not work like the federal government," Kimsey stated. "We have to balance expenses and revenues. If we eliminate an ongoing revenue like the $325,000 from parking fees, we will need to eliminate some other ongoing expense of that same amount."
Finally, and importantly, the timing is wrong. "These types of decisions should be made when budgets are put together, when various aspects of county government are weighed against each other," the county auditor advised. His recommendation, however, was ignored by Madore and Mielke.
Madore misfired on two other explanations. "It is a quality of life issue," he said in doing away with parking fees at Frenchman's Bar Park, Lewisville Regional Park, Vancouver Lake Park, Salmon Creek/Klineline Pond, Daybreak Park & Boat Launch and Haapa Boat Launch. If that's all that matters, might Madore decide to stop charging green fees at county-owned Tri-Mountain Golf Course? Using his rationale, why not improve the local quality of life by making golf more accessible to the people? And all that lost revenue? Simple: The county's general fund could make up the difference.
Also, Madore's expressed intent "to restore the free use of our parks to those citizens who are right now deterred from using them," is highly disingenuous. The truth is, there are 83 parks in Clark County outside of Vancouver city limits, and admission to all is free. We suspect Madore knows this, but propping up the abolition of parking fees as some grand opening of floodgates to free parks makes for more passionate grandstanding.
In an online comment, former parks spokeswoman Jilayne Jordan pointed out that, in the past decade, "$2.3 million has been cut from the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation budget, and more than 35 people have been laid off. Just two years ago, the city cut its parks maintenance staff in half."
And now, add to that funding crisis a $325,000 demand, and it becomes clear: Madore expects the destitute parks department to pay for the fulfillment of his campaign promise.