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News / Clark County News

What’s Up With That? Citizens made park irrigation a low priority

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 2, 2014, 5:00pm

The deteriorating state of Franklin Park in Northwest Vancouver is an embarrassment. There is an irrigation system, but the city hasn’t turned it on for a couple of years, I think. They mow the weeds occasionally, but that only leaves little spiky weed stems that are dangerous for anyone barefooted. This no longer is a pleasant place to spend time. It’s become a wasteland. I’ve noticed that other neighborhood parks also are dry and brown and uncared-for. No money for maintenance?

— John Harrison, Northwest neighborhood

John, you put your finger right on it: No money.

Of course it infuriates people to say “no money” about a city with a total 2013-14 biennial budget of $752.4 million. But the citizens of Vancouver were directly involved in setting policy about spending any of those millions on park irrigation. This question remains a summertime favorite nonetheless, Vancouver public works spokeswoman Loretta Callahan said.

So here’s some quick background. Property taxes provide the backbone for city services. Voter-approved Initiative 747, which passed in 2001, capped annual property tax increases at 1 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, so property taxes just don’t keep up with costs anymore. And it’s not like city water is free; by state law, the city general fund is billed for the water it uses just like any other customer.

When the Vancouver City Council sought public input prior to making some painful decisions about the recession-hobbled 2009-10 budget, residents didn’t prioritize neighborhood park irrigation.

Therefore: “Neighborhood parks are no longer watered,” Callahan said. “As a result of budget reductions … the city shut off irrigation to neighborhood parks to reduce both water use and mowing frequencies.”

Community parks get just a little more love, she added. If you’re fuzzy on the difference: neighborhood parks are smaller, simpler and intended for local neighbors to walk to; community parks are larger and draw more people from further afield to amenities such as sports fields, restrooms and parking lots. At 12 acres, Franklin verges on community park size, but it’s still considered a neighborhood park.

Big picture, Callahan said: The city’s grounds maintenance staff was cut in half, to 14, during that 2009-10 budget reduction. It remains responsible for 83 parks totaling 517 acres, plus 11 more “open spaces” totaling 50 acres; 271 acres of city facilities, water stations, fire stations and Pearson Field airport; three cemeteries totaling 70 acres; more than 70 miles of trails and walkways, and “many miles” of street meridians and rights-of-way.

Corrections crews and citizen volunteers have helped make up the difference in the years since the squeeze, Callahan added, and some neighborhood groups have embraced a new Adopt-A-Park program to take the lead. “It really shows what a volunteering community Vancouver really is,” Callahan said.

If you’re interested, visit www.cityofvancouver.us/parksrec/page/adopt-park.

Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.