The Vancouver park board approved over $700,000 in reductions to its 2011 budget Thursday evening (December 16).
Cuts to parks will include reducing flower beds, lawn mowing and street pruning, as well as twinning the management of two community centres.
The budget cuts follow city council’s decision to allocate $200,000 to keep public washrooms open and maintain cleaning services, and $100,000 towards eliminating youth user fees for playing fields, reducing what was initially a $1 million savings target.
But some park commissioners questioned the budget process and a third year of cuts to parks.
NPA commissioner Ian Robertson, who abstained in voting for the budget out of concerns over the process, said public meetings should have been held on the proposed cuts to parks before city council's decision.
“If they were going to change the process then that should have been made clear at the beginning that there was going to be no public meetings to discuss the budget and that everyone should go to council,” Robertson told the Straight. “The question has to be asked, if that’s the direction, then why have an elected independent park board?”
Park board chair Aaron Jasper said members of the public were encouraged to bring their concerns to city council’s public hearings on the budget.
“I think we’ve made every attempt to delay a vote specifically to give the public a chance to share their thoughts with us on all the initiatives that were in that first draft, and to give the public as well as commissioners the opportunity to go to council,” Jasper told the Straight following the vote.
“Whether they went and spoke directly or wrote an e-mail, we all had the opportunity and I can tell you myself, I spent many, many hours lobbying the chair of finance and lobbying city councillors, trying to make the case that yes parks are important, the services that we do provide are important.”
Some members of the public addressed the park board before its vote Thursday, including Kate Perkins, the president of the Trout Lake Community Association.
"The cuts have to stop," she told commissioners. "I think services are just going to continue to dwindle and dwindle and dwindle."
The $730,000 in budget reduction initiatives include eliminating night security at Andy Livingstone Park, reducing flower and shrub beds, reducing a street tree pruning program, eliminating mowing in 14 percent of the city’s “passive turf” areas and twinning the management of Kitsilano and Douglas community centres.
Green party commissioner Stuart Mackinnon also objected to the process, and voted against the budget in opposition to a third year of budget cuts to parks.
“I ultimately cannot support this budget because once again, for the third year in a row, parks or park maintenance is taking the brunt of the cuts,” he told the board. “Year after year, our park maintenance has been reduced.”
COPE Commissioner Loretta Woodcock also voted against the budget reductions in opposition to the cuts, although she praised Vision park commissioners for “advocating strongly” at city hall.
“I think this board has been put in an untenable position because of the amount of cuts that we’ve had, in part in terms of the economy,” she told commissioners. “I’m hard pressed to support the $770,000 reduction even though I’m very pleased that we got some of our money back.”
Jasper called the $300,000 allocated by city council “nothing to sneeze at”.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined getting elected and having to face having to make $5 million in cuts over three years, but we find ourselves in recession,” he told the Straight. "Let’s hope that with the economy improving that in the coming years we won’t have to face these kinds of steep cuts."