By Anita Romaniuk, Parks Board Committee Co-chair
The Park Board held a Special Meeting on Dec 13 to vote on the 2013 Operating and Capital Budgets for 2013. City Council voted on the overall city budget, including the amounts allocated to Park Board, on Dec 11. A Vision announcement under the name of Mayor Gregor Robertson trumpets various improvements such as $3 million for sports facilities such as clubhouses, playing fields, and public washrooms, rebuilding Kensington Hall including new childcare spaces, and upgrading the Kits Beach tennis courts. It also provides a 2.3% increase to the 2013 Park Board budget :
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, except that the notice was sent out on the afternoon of Wednesday Dec 12, prior to the Park Board vote on the budget on the evening of Dec 13! Does this mean that the Park Board’s acceptance of the budget was pre-ordained – by City Council? While Council decides the total amount of the budget allocated to Park Board, the Parks Commissioners, who are elected and accountable to the people of Vancouver, decide on the details – or do they?
Most of the publicized improvements are capital projects, funded by the 3-year capital plan approved by Vancouver voters in November 2011. The City and Park Board divide this into annual segments and decide which projects are started each year. However, the overall budget combines the capital budget with the operating budget, which is decided on an annual basis. The Park Board’s share funds the operations of recreation facilities and community centres, the maintenance of parks, and overhead such as utility costs. Information on the operating and capital budgets is contained in these two reports:
Although the Operating Budget for 2013 has increased by $2.4 million over 2012, it does not restore the funding for 900 hours of staff time that was cut from the community centres in 2012. Some of the $2.4 million is allocated to increased operating costs at the two new and heavily used community centres at Trout Lake and Hillcrest, without addressing the shortfall at other community centres. The $2.4 million also covers wage increases negotiated with employees, and some is supposed to fund new initiatives to improve equity in access to services, greening, and healthy activities. Given that the loss of 900 hours of staff time at the community centres resulted in reduced opening hours, the equity of access to recreational activities is questionable. Contrary to Commissioner Jasper’s claim that the reduced opening hours are low impact:
it is people who have lower incomes and are less mobile who are the most impacted, because their ability to access more distant or expensive alternatives is limited. Equity indeed!