Budget 2009: Does Vancouver really need an elected park board?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


cutting grass
Is this a City of Vancouver, Park Board or School Board employee cutting the grass?

We're now in the "final stretches" pronounced Mayor Robertson as he brought down the gavel yesterday and closed the first portion of debate on the City's budget deliberations. Vancouver taxpayers will have their first chance to speak directly to the Mayor and his Council colleagues at a special meeting being held on March 31st at City Hall. You can click here for more details if interested.

As usual, Annette Klein, the Acting Director of Finance (she took over from the former Finance Director who quit then promptly received a $400K+ severance package) did a superb job of presenting her case to Council. She was peppered with questions on a number of subjects and she stood her ground. Klein even managed to remain cool, calm and collected when the Vancouver Police notified Council they were blowing through their 'criminal investigation' fund faster than Scooby Doo can sock back bacon burgers.

Part of the budget discussions yesterday referenced financial support for Canada's only elected Park Board. It reminded me of a discussion I had with a small business owner a few years back when he offered up a few "free" suggestions on how to cut costs at City Hall:

"Why don't you just get rid of your elected Park Board? Why do we need another level of government anyway?"

He asked a very good question, and one which we now pose to readers through our web poll. Does Vancouver actually need to have an elected Park Board and all the administration and bureaucracy that comes with it? The City of Vancouver doesn't have an elected Library Board? Nor does it have an elected Police Board or Fire Board.

Therefore, has the time come to rethink the whole concept of setting up a bureaucracy known as the Park Board? And if you think for a minute this elected Park Board doesn't cost Vancouver taxpayers extra money - think again.

Firstly, there are all those staff (both management and administrative) required to attend regular Park Board meetings and support their elected officials (there are seven of them). Then there are the salaries of the elected officials that need to be paid year in and year out. Albeit they get peanuts, however, not a single volunteer on the Library Board is given a salary and they've been doing an outstanding job.

I've been advised it would take one simple motion of Council to wipe out the Park Board and amalgamate the Parks Department into the overall operations of City Hall. That's right, with a stroke of a pen, Council could completely eliminate another whole level of bureaucracy and save taxpayers a bundle to boot.

Advocates against getting rid of an elected Park Board argue it is essential for two main reasons. Firstly, if you get rid of the "elected" portion of the Park Board, you will lose a great advocate for parks in a City that has no more land to create them. Secondly, they claim the Park Board is a great "recruiting ground" for future Councillors, MLAs and MPs.

On the first point of advocacy, I don't think their argument holds water. Do Park Board advocates want us to believe the representatives on the Library or Police Board are somehow less passionate about their areas of jurisdictions because they volunteer their time and aren't elected? I think not.

Regarding the issue of it being a training ground...do we really need a Park Board to help train aspiring civic politicos to become our future Councillors and MLAs? If there is a problem with training, certainly one of Vancouver's community colleges could set up an evening course to help those aspiring to higher office prepare themselves for the big leagues.

To put the whole issue of the Park Board in a broader context, I want to share with you a bit of intelligence I gathered while working at the Mayor's Office.

I recall someone telling me that during the Stanley Park windstorm, there was major jurisdictional infighting between Park Board engineers and City engineers regarding who was responsible for what. This duplication of service was apparently quite messy - and I'm not talking about the storm's aftermath here.

It was also pointed out to me during the civic strike that all the boulevards and street trees in Vancouver are the jurisdiction of the Park Board. Therefore in theory, under the current system, you might encounter the following scenario on a nice sunny day in Vancouver.

The grass on the boulevard outside your local elementary school will be cut by a Park Board crew. The lawn on the school grounds will be cut by a School Board employee. While the lawn at the adjacent city-owned building will be cut by a City of Vancouver employee. Three separate crews, all cutting lawn on municipal property within spitting distance of each other.

Clearly there are some issues of duplication that need to be addressed big time. Something Budget 2009 has yet to really delve into.

The budget for the Park Board will likely be increased again this year by 4.2%, well above the 1% rate of inflation.

Despite numerous attempts to locate someone from either the Park Board or the City's Finance Department (I kept getting moved along to another voice mail), I could not track down how much it costs taxpayers to service the "elected" Park Board. This is unlike the Mayor and Councillors budgets which are clearly laid out for public scrutiny.

I suspect the cost to service Park Board politicians is buried somewhere in their proposed $101,988,000 annual budget. It might just take me a while to find it.

Now over to you...what do you think? Does Vancouver really need an elected Park Board? Cast your vote on our new web poll now.


The Park Board and City could also be savings by all the other duplication of services between the two. 2 payroll, 2 purchasing departments, 2 planning departments, 2 many managers. in Park Board. If the Parks Board was eliminated then you wouldn't need a General Manager just one director, right now Park Board has a director of finance, director of planning, director of operations, director of Van east, director of of QE district, Director od Stanley district. To top heavy!

excellent article! i have worked at the city of vancouver for over 25 years and have always been amazed at the lack of accountability at the parks board.they have their own budget which is shrouded in secrecy,a superintendent of the three big city owned golf courses who spent millions overhauling langara golf course but did it wrong[drainage worse than ever!]that nobody talks about and a bloated management staff in general that produce nothing but a paycheque for themselves.can you say audit?

"The grass on the boulevard outside your local elementary school will be cut by a Park Board crew. The lawn on the school grounds will be cut by a School Board employee. While the lawn at the adjacent city-owned building will be cut by a City of Vancouver employee. Three separate crews, all cutting lawn on municipal property within spitting distance of each other."

Schools are NOT municipal properties. They are properties of the school board and ultimately of the provincial government. Schools aren't funded through the municipal taxes but rather provincial dollars.

Hello City Caucus Readers,

This year only 536 people and businesses completed the city's annual online budget survey, providing limited feedback on this year's budget to Mayor Robertson and city council from regular citizens.

But you still have time to register your opinions on the 2009 budget at http://thinkcity.ca/citizenbudgetsurvey.

What are your priorities for this year's city budget? More spending on the Olympics? Shifting taxes from businesses to residents? Maintaining existing funding for libraries, community centres and parks?

Take our Citizen Budget survey now. The deadline for submissions is midnight on Friday, March 27.

The Think City Citizen Budget Team

The original City Fathers were far-sighted.

They knew that parks would be essential for the physical and mental health of the future citizens of the future city, and they entrusted that future to the Board of Parks and Recreation. The reason that Vancouver has had such a good system of parks and recreation facilities -- pools, rinks, gyms, etc. -- since 1886 is due to the independence of the Board, and the independence of the Board is due to its elected status.

By all means, turn the management consultants loose on the Board, but leave its status -- and its expertise -- alone.

As a park board commissioner heading into my 7th year serving on the board (I haven't lept to council or provincial politics)I can answer Mr Fontaine's question about how much does it cost for seven park board commissioners. Commissioners salaries and supplies cost taxpayers approximately $140,000 in 2008. Commissioners oversee an annual operating budget of $92 million and from 2005 to 2008 presided over $119 million in new infrastructure building which includes Olympic facilities at Riley Park, Killarney and Trout Lake community centres. Park Boards recreational infrastructure inventory includes 221 parks comprising 1,295 hectares, or 11% of the City's land area, 23 community centres, 9 indoor and 6 outdoor pools, 8 ice rinks, 24 fitness centres, 3 full length golf courses and 3 pitch & putts, 273 playing fields, 181 tennis courts, 67 other sport courts, 6 skate board parks, 18 kilometres of beaches and 130,800 street trees serving approximately 580,000 residents and draws millions of tourists to Vancouver. Not a bad deal for taxpayers. Loretta Woodcock

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