City council backs proposed parks deal

It clarifies Vancouver's role in running department; county contracts for services

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A majority of the Vancouver City Council on Monday expressed support for a proposed new agreement with Clark County that more accurately describes what goes on behind the scenes at the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department.

Users of parks and facilities shouldn't notice a difference, as the agreement clarifies that the city runs the department and the county simply contracts for services.

For example, when the city hires a new director, he or she will report to Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes and the city council and not the county administrator or commissioners.

Vicki Vanneman, special projects manager for the parks department, told councilors the proposed new agreement follows recommendations by parks consulting group GreenPlay LLC. In February, both the city council and the county commissioners received briefings on the consultants' findings, which concluded that current management structure was too convoluted.

They also heard that the department lacks a sustainable business model and clear vision, according to the consultants, and residents' satisfaction with the maintenance of city parks, adult and youth recreation programs and indoor facilities has decreased from 2010 to 2012.

Chris Dropinski of GreenPlay told the council on Monday that the new agreement reflects a streamlined operation.

The city will run the department and the county will contract for customer service, master planning for parks, trails and special facilities, land acquisition, inventory management and road atlas updates.

Only Jeanne Stewart expressed reservations about moving forward without hearing from the county commissioners.

Councilor Larry Smith said the city needed to move on because it is the primary provider of parks and recreation.

"I don't care where they are … the ball is in our court," Smith said.

Councilor Jack Burkman said the city council has made it clear that it was going to go down this path.

Under the agreement, the county will be billed 1/12th of the agreed budget.

That's about the same amount the county pays now, said Clark County Public Works Director Pete Capell. Under the agreement, Capell will meet with the parks and recreation director twice a year to review expenses and make any necessary adjustments.

Capell said the only sticking point the commissioners may have with the new agreement concerns how members are appointed to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Under the new agreement, the mayor of Vancouver would appoint the members who live in unincorporated Clark County, and the people would have to be approved by the city council. Capell said commissioners will want to retain control of appointments of county residents.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.