Public to have say in parks' parking fees

Madore vowed to nix $3-per-vehicle charge at four county parks

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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County commissioners look at cuts to parks and recreation

Clark County commissioners Wednesday briefly discussed a proposed change to an agreement between the county and city of Vancouver to operate the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department.

The department is a partnership between the two agencies, but the county has been keen to rework an agreement and reduce the $880,000 it pays each year to the department.

Staff presented a proposal Wednesday afternoon to commissioners that showed how to cut $58,000 from the contract.

The county appears interested in cutting its funding of a director position from 40 percent to 10 percent, saving $40,000. Funding for a business manager position also could be cut, saving the county $10,000.

Other cuts include reduction in contributions to an impact fee program and a service that provides meeting minutes.

Clark County Public Works Director Pete Capell said the cuts were recommended by city staff. He said the Vancouver City Council would still need to agree to any modification of the agreement, however.

Commissioners told Capell to move forward in negotiating the change in the contract, and agreed they need to have a follow-up workshop on the agreement as a whole.

Clark County commissioners will move to a public hearing to discuss the removal of parking fees at county parks. But what will be agreed on as policy still appears undecided.

The move to remove fees, set at $3 per vehicle at four county parks, is a campaign promise issued by Commissioner David Madore leading up to his election victory last November. He's said his goal of such a move is to improve the quality of life in Clark County.

"We're not proposing any cuts in maintenance (or) operations," Madore said at a Wednesday afternoon county workshop. "We're not proposing any cuts in parks staff at all. This just simply has to do with funding the parks instead of through fees, it would be funding them through the general fund."

County staff told commissioners they would need to pay an estimated $325,000 out of the general fund to make up for the missing revenues. That would bring the ending fund balance budgeted in the county's 2013-14 budget from $25 million to $24.7 million.

Madore said that amount makes up less than 1 percent of the county's projected revenues.

Commissioner Steve Stuart didn't say how he intends to vote on the matter when it is brought to a public hearing, but he was irked by Madore's notion that such an amount would be viewed as "insignificant."

Stuart said Madore had recently balked at a contract with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. Madore said Tuesday he wanted more information on the organization's salaries before moving forward with a vote on a contract.

"I'm trying to get a handle on how you're seeing this, using the general fund to uphold a campaign promise," Stuart said. "Yesterday, $57,500, that was the budgeted increase for the Humane Society; $322,500 was the total amount being asked for. Your quotes (are) general funds are crucial; we're charged to be good stewards for public funds; this amount is significant."

He continued, "You're going to have to explain to me how that is logically consistent."

Madore countered that "every dollar in our general fund is significant."

"Our charge is to be good stewards of all the funds. Anyone who comes to us and asks for money, for anything, we always have the fiduciary responsibility to ensure it's the responsible (choice). What we are not saying is we will never spend any of the discretionary funds from our general fund. Instead, what we are saying is when we spend money from the general fund it is responsible, it buys something that is significant. In this case, it buys us quality of life."

Commissioner Tom Mielke attempted to stop the discussion, saying, "With all due respect, we're not discussing yesterday."

After moving on, Mielke did agree with Stuart on one point. He said Stuart's concern that removing fees, and paying for parks through the general fund, would be offering free admission to those outside the county.

Madore said offering free parks to all would be akin to a marketing campaign welcoming potential employers to the county.

Mielke said he wants to see more information to decide on at the public hearing, and said he may support a change in code that removes parking fees for those with Washington license plates.

The commissioners agreed to move the public hearing forward, with the expectation that additional information be presented at the public hearing.

A public hearing requires a 10-day notice, and Stuart said the hearing should be scheduled in about two weeks.

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