City, county parks divorce about to be final

At the end of Monday’s council meeting, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes gave an update on efforts to salvage the Vancouver-Clark County Parks and Recreation department: They haven’t worked, and divorce is imminent.

The county sent the city notice in June it would terminate the  interlocal agreement unless changes could be made. Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke wanted to reduce the services it purchases from the city, and wanted drastic savings.

Under the agreement, the county was sending $880,000 each year to the city-run department. While presented as a joint department, the county was really buying services such as administration and planning from the city to help operate the county parks and recreation programs.

The structure of the agreement was criticized in an outside assessment of the department, and consultants told the city and county they either needed to work closer together or farther apart.

In April, the city council agreed with a proposed agreement in which the  county would contract for customer service, master planning for parks, trails and special facilities, land acquisition, inventory management and road atlas updates.

Commissioners haven’t been in such an agreeable mood.

Holmes said Monday several options have been presented to the county commissioners, “but none of them have proven to be acceptable.”

The county may still choose to contract with the city for some services, Holmes said, but those would be on a case-by-case basis.

Councilor Larry Smith, who used to be director of the parks department, said he’s sad to see this happen. The city has always reached out to the county, Smith said.

The parks union was created in 1997.

“It hurts a little bit,” he said.

So how much will the divorce cost the city? Holmes said the city will have to spend $600,000 in 2014 to keep current service levels, and the city has the money in its reserves.

Where they’ll find the money for 2015 and beyond, Holmes said, will be something to talk about in advance of the next budget cycle.

Parks have already been hit hard by budget cuts. Since 2008, the number of full-time employees at the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department has been cut in half. Parks funding accounts for approximately 6 percent of the city’s general fund, down from 10 to 11 percent. Last year, however, voters rejected a dedicated tax for parks and recreation.

Holmes said he didn’t know how much the breakup will cost the county, but in every scenario he’d seen the county will have to shell out more money.






Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at or 360-735-4508.

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