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.