Clark County Commissioner David Madore says the county has found a way to cut about $400,000 from the parks department budget it shares with the city of Vancouver, and will be announcing the elimination of parking fees at county parks as a result within the month.
Madore, who made the declaration that county parks parking fees were heading out the door on a local radio show Thursday, said he doesn't have details of how the money will be saved, deferring to county staffers.
"One thing about being a commissioner is you can't get in the weeds and get in the details," Madore said after the radio interview.
Earlier this month, Madore asked staff to identify areas where the county could save money without interrupting necessary service to the county parks.
Staffers say the bulk of the savings could come from reducing the county's contribution to the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department, a city-county department that plans and maintains parks across the county.
The county sends about $880,000 to the department each year. Staffers said they have found some cuts from the contract that could be viewed as acceptable, but reaching a goal of $400,000 will require further discussion.
News of the plan drew criticism from Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, who said he was disheartened to hear Madore talk of the county pulling a chunk of its funding.
"I know there have been discussions at the staff level, but there has been nothing brought forward to the policymakers," Leavitt said. "It sounds to me a bit like the commissioner is jumping the gun here, and robbing Peter to pay Paul. You can't waive fees for services and programs and expect that the money is going to drop out of the sky to compensate for the loss."
Leavitt said a reduction in funding will likely result in cuts to staff and programs within the department.
"So you may not have to pay a fee to get into that park, but you may be in a park that hasn't been maintained very well," Leavitt said.
Talks next month
Madore said specific talks on what services the county will choose not to support are likely to begin in February during a discussion about reorganizing the intralocal agreement over the city-county parks and recreation department. Under the agreement, the county purchases services such as maintenance, groundskeeping and operational staff.
Clark County Public Works Director Pete Capell said his report to Madore isn't in the details stage yet, but he believes there is around $330,000 in potential savings for the county.
Among the options are eliminating payments for park planning services and opting out of paying for a parks and recreation director. Capell said those moves could be made if the county commits to focusing specifically on maintenance of its current assets.
"The scope of services (paid for by the county) doesn't need to be what it was previously, since we have had to delay further construction of new parks in the district," Capell said. "We're not doing the level of planning we once were, we are just maintaining the parks."
Capell said some savings will also come from the department coming in under its budget. Last year, the parks and recreation department didn't spend $80,000 sent to it by the county.
The endgame for Madore is to eliminate park fees, a cornerstone in his campaign promises last year. The county collects around $375,000 in parking fees each year.
Before it can do anything, the county must undergo a public process in changing the agreement. The county is scheduled to receive a report from a consultant in early February that will outline the relationship between the county and city in regards to the parks and recreation department.
Madore said he expects the county to listen to the consultant's report, then "do what makes sense."
A second vote?
Does Madore have a second vote for his plan? Commissioner Tom Mielke did not return calls for comment, and Commissioner Steve Stuart said he would wait for the public process to play out before making a decision. Madore was undeterred.
"I can tell you this," Madore said. "I am committed to do this, and I am optimistic that when both commissioners see what is laid out in front of us, they will see that everyone will win. I expect it to be a 3-0 vote and everyone will play the hero."
Laura Hudson, interim director of the parks and recreation department, didn't comment on the matter, saying it was the first she had heard discussion that the county would pull money from the department.
Hudson, who earned $129,300 in 2012, is retiring in April. Her position (salary, payroll taxes, pension, health benefits) costs $164,484 per year — 60 percent by the city and 40 percent by the county. She said a recruitment for a permanent director is under way, with the hope of hiring a new director in March.
Hudson said that while a new budget for the parks and recreation department was recently approved for the 2013-14 biennium, the renegotiation of the interlocal agreement could offer an avenue to alter the funding.
In April 2012, the county elected to pull back $300,000 in funding from the department as part of a supplemental budget.
The department has seen a decrease in funding over the past five years from a total budget of $11.3 million in 2009 to an $8.6 million budget in 2013.
The county has decreased its funding over the years, as well. In the 2009-10 biennium, the county allocated $2.1 million to the department. In the 2013-14 budget, it has allocated just under $1.8 million.