Madore: Consider county's general fund to cover elimination of park fees

Stuart against making up loss with $325,000 from public services

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Clark County Commissioner David Madore, who made a campaign promise to eliminate parking and boat launch fees at county parks, said Wednesday he wants a public hearing on whether the county should cut the fees and make up the difference by taking $325,000 out of the county's general fund.

He couldn't get a second vote, however, so he won't get a hearing just yet.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he's not in favor of having the general fund pick up the whole tab to pay off Madore's campaign promise.

The general fund pays for public services. Two-thirds of the fund goes for public safety.

Stuart also called out Madore for expressing his desire for a public hearing during Wednesday afternoon's board time. He questioned why Madore didn't speak up Wednesday morning when commissioners had a well-attended work session with Public Works Director Pete Capell on options to make up the lost parking revenue.

Commissioner Tom Mielke, who attended the morning meeting, was not at board time. He later told Administrator Bill Barron it would be premature to go to a public hearing until they got more detailed information on a different option the commissioners agreed to explore during the morning meeting, Barron said.

Stuart said this was the second time Madore stayed silent during a public work session, then came to board time and expressed a strong opinion.

"We had a work session today," Stuart said. Capell even listed "increase general fund contribution by $325,000" as the first option.

"It was on the board for you," Stuart said, clearly frustrated. He apologized, but said as chairman he needs to know the direction the board wants to take, and the reason commissioners have work sessions is to instruct staff members on how to proceed on various policies.

The work session was attended by neighborhood leaders, a representative of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and other interested members of the community.

In contrast, "board time" constitutes a public meeting because commissioners discuss policy, but they meet in a small conference room with Barron and other senior staff members. (A reporter from The Columbian also attends.)

Stuart said Madore should have spoken up at the work session, instead of coming to board time and asking Barron to call Mielke and see if he will be a second vote.

That's not transparency, Stuart told Madore.

Madore said he thought work sessions were only for commissioners to receive input.

No, Stuart said. That's why at every work session, commissioners are asked what action they want to take.

After the work session, Capell said he came away with the impression that commissioners agreed to explore an option that includes cutting $100,000 from what the county pays to the city of Vancouver to operate the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department. Then the county would take $225,000 from the general fund.

Under the interlocal agreement, the county pays the city $880,000 a year.

A third option presented by Capell involved the county cutting $325,000 from what it pays the city, an offer the city might reject, Capell said.

Detailed list requested

During the Wednesday morning meeting, Stuart told Capell he wanted a detailed list of what would have to be cut from the general fund if the general fund was used to make up for lost parks revenue.

During board time, Madore said the money that would allow the county to eliminate park fees had been identified because Assessor Peter Van Nortwick had saved $500,000. Stuart said the county saved several million dollars from 2011-2012 budget, and saved money rolls over to the next budget, including reserves. Stuart said he wouldn't want to draw down the reserve fund because it would affect the county's bond rating.

Mielke didn't say much Wednesday morning, but did point out there are a lot of parks for which the county doesn't charge fees.

The county charges parking fees at Frenchman's Bar, Lewisville, Salmon Creek Park/Klineline Pond, Vancouver Lake and Wintler parks and at three boat launches.

Parking fees are $3 for cars, $6 for vehicles with trailers, and $8 for buses.

Annual passes are $40, and more than 500 passes have been sold. If commissioners do decide to get rid of the fees, Capell suggested they hold off until Jan. 1, 2014.

John Caton, a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, praised Madore for attempting to make good on a campaign promise, but told him not to cut the parking fees.

"We often see campaign promises go away like a bad smell with the wind," Caton said.

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