Residents opposed to a proposed new operating agreement between the Vancouver park board and community centre associations packed a gym at Kerrisdale Community Centre Tuesday evening as part of what organizers called an “emergency” meeting.
Hundreds of residents filled the building to pose questions to the park board’s general manager Malcolm Bromley about a proposed new model that would see revenues generated from programs and room rentals across the city's facilities managed by the park board.
According to Bromley, the proposed plan is aimed at ensuring equitable access across the city’s “have and have not” centres. But some community association leaders maintain that revenues should continue to be managed by the organizations that are most familiar with the needs of the community.
“The resounding concern is the people here do not want the city to take control of the funds, because they do not trust the city’s ability to manage those funds,” Robert Lockhart, vice-president of the Kerrisdale Community Centre Association, told the Straight following the meeting.
“The other message that was here is the people here are not against equality, they’re not against equity for people—it was suggested that what’s needed is some management help in those centres that are having difficulty, and I think I heard people here saying that they’re more than happy to support that kind of approach.”
Bromley said the proposed changes to the park board’s operating agreements with many of its community centre associations are intended to ensure access for all income levels to facilities and programs across the city.
“There is a surplus that’s generated, and it works really well here, and Kerrisdale’s done a terrific job of doing programming,” Bromley told reporters. “In those other areas of the city where they cannot afford fees, there’s no ability to support them."
He noted there are “five or six very struggling communities” where fees are difficult for people to afford.
“The impact of recreation on their lives is very significant,” he said.
Some speakers at the meeting Tuesday (January 29) expressed concerned that the proposed new operating agreement will come at the expense of local programming.
“Let’s get it more equitable for folks in community centres where there’s not sufficient funding,” community member Isabel Minty said to applause. “And Mr. Bromley should be fighting for more money for the centres who need basic funding, not taking from those who have it.”
Residents also met Tuesday evening at the Killarney Community Centre to raise concerns about the proposed operating agreement.
Killarney Community Centre Association president Ainslie Kwan said in a phone interview before the meeting that her organization believes the city is “out of touch” with what the programming needs are in communities.
“Each individual community has different programming needs and by allowing community centre associations to respond to those needs, we make sure that programs that are right for the communities are provided in the communities,” she said.
Bromley said local programs won’t be eliminated as a result of the agreement.
“There would be no programming cut—we’re confident,” he said. “The current option that we’re proposing is that there’s enough money in the system to pay—it’s who cuts the cheque for the employer.”
According to park board commissioner Niki Sharma, the proposed new operating agreement is also aimed at allowing a universal membership card for a network of community centres across the city, and ensuring that subsidized programming for people that live below the poverty line is offered at all centres. She noted that community centres would still have the ability to do their own fundraising.
“We just think that no matter what neighbourhood you’re in, your community centre should have the same services and affordable programming as any other neighbourhood,” she said in an interview before the meeting.
Bromley noted the operating agreement is still under discussion as park board staff meet with community associations, and will come to the board for a vote.