More green in wallets, less green in parks

We’ve received questions from people unhappy with the state of Vancouver city parks this summer, and we’ve tried to explain, more than once, why parks aren’t green and sparkling clean in our weekly “What’s up with that?” feature in the Neighbors section.

As I wrote in response to one city resident frustrated her property taxes weren’t going to keep her local park green:

Yes, you pay property taxes for city services. But 2001’s Initiative 747 capped annual property tax increases at 1 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, and now property taxes don’t support as many services as they used to. Parks are ranked behind fire, police and public works in terms of important city services. The fire department gets 25 cents of every $1 of city property tax revenue, the police department gets 24 cents and public works gets 15 cents. Those are the big three, and every other department fights for the leftovers.

Of every $1 dollar in property taxes the city takes in, 6 cents goes to parks and recreation. When the Vancouver City Council sought public input prior to the 2009-10 budget, which included citywide cuts, the residents who responded didn’t rate “watering neighborhood parks” a priority.

Loretta Callahan, Vancouver Public Works spokeswoman, said the city’s 14-member grounds maintenance staff is responsible for 83 parks totaling 517 acres, plus 50 acres in 11 open-space properties. Also on their to-do list: 58 properties such as city facilities, water stations, fire stations and an airpark totaling 271 acres; three cemeteries totaling 70 acres; more than 70 miles of trails and walks and many miles of street medians and rights of way.

The subject of park maintenance came up Monday during council communications. Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle noted recent letters to the editor criticizing the trashy appearance of street medians and parks.

She also pointed out, in response to criticism of trash on freeways, that the state is responsible for picking up that garbage. Also, drivers of pickup trucks, please cover your crap (my word, not hers, she was more polite) to keep it from flying out of the bed.

McEnerny-Ogle offered a suggestion to residents unhappy with the way their little section of the world looks:  On Saturday, spend an hour volunteering as part of the Clark County Connects Day of Service and food drive.

(Some neighborhood groups have also stepped up to take care of parks. If that sounds enticing visit

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt knows people are frustrated. This time of year, “the sun is shining and the grass is brown and you see the garbage much more clearly.” He’s complained about how parks and medians look, too.

“I know staff is doing the best they can,” Leavitt said. But the city prioritizes public safety first, then infrastructure. Keeping parks green lands way down the list.

He added that in 2012, city voters overwhelmingly rejected a dedicated tax for parks and recreation expenses.

“We, as a council, asked our community a couple of years back if they were willing to support a more robust operations and maintenance of parks program, and the voters of our community said resoundingly ‘No,'” Leavitt said.

The parks proposal, which would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $70 in annual taxes, failed 66 to 34 percent.


Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

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

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