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Vancouver is leery of county’s plans on parks pact

Council hesitates to consider changes before commissioners more clearly set out intentions

Published: April 1, 2013, 5:00pm

The Vancouver City Council expressed concerns Monday night that its pact with Clark County to provide parks and recreation services may be coming to an end.

The city is considering making changes to the interlocal agreement that creates the city-county partnership for the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation Department. Under the current agreement, the county pays the city for several parks services, including administration and planning.

Both city and county have said they want to see changes to that agreement. But the modifications the city is considering, such as redefining personnel roles and restructuring a parks advisory board, might not be as drastic as changes the county wants to see.

The county has made it clear it wants to reduce the $880,000 it pays each year to the department. In March, county staff presented a proposal showing how to cut $58,000 from the contract.

The county is considering cutting 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 reducing contributions to an impact fee program and a service that provides meeting minutes.

Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Harris said Monday she had concerns about what happens if the county decides to stop entirely its purchasing of services and staff time from the department.

Other councilors shared that concern, and it clearly gave them pause as to what to do next.

“Frankly, I’m not sensing a comfort level with this council right now on giving you direction,” Mayor Tim Leavitt told Laura Hudson, the interim director of the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department, at a Monday workshop.

Several councilors said it would also be good to know what direction the county commissioners are heading before the city talks about changes to the agreement.

The county could shed light on some of its plans as early as tonight, when commissioners discuss eliminating parking fees at the parks it controls. They meet at 6 p.m. at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

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The interlocal agreement is not specifically on the commissioners’ agenda, but it has frequently been brought up when commissioners broach the topic of parking fees at five parks and three boat launches.

Leavitt said the goal of the council at this point should be to insulate the city’s parks services from any potential effects in case the county does withdraw.

“The direction I think we need to move in is that we need to ensure, through the (agreement) or otherwise, that the city’s parks and (recreation) program is autonomous,” Leavitt said. “And that no matter what action is taken at the county commissioner board level, that it does not have a negative impact on our parks program.”

Leavitt also asked the parks and recreation department staff to schedule another workshop to provide a better “picture” of the department. That would include an organizational flow chart, defined staff roles and more information on modifications to a parks advisory board.

There also appeared to be some hope among councilors that the county will paint a clearer picture of its intentions before the city meets on the matter again.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.