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People swim at the aquatic centre at Hillcrest Park in the Little Mountain neighbourhood in Vancouver in May 2011. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
People swim at the aquatic centre at Hillcrest Park in the Little Mountain neighbourhood in Vancouver in May 2011. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Community groups offer olive branch to park board Add to ...

The majority of Vancouver community-centre associations are prepared to try to negotiate with the Vancouver park board, says the chair of a group representing association presidents – despite a lengthy and acrimonious meeting Monday night.

The often emotional nine-hour session ended near dawn Tuesday morning with a 5-2 vote by park-board commissioners directing staff to continue negotiating with associations on a way to share program revenue and provide equal access to all centres across the city.

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Under the park board’s proposed funding model, the board seeks to oversee the nearly $1-million surplus generated from community centre programs, spreading it around to centres in an equitable fashion. Program fees would become similar across the city, making centres more accessible.

Opponents said Monday evening that the proposed model would limit the ability of community centre associations to respond to the needs of their community – for example, having the resources to build fitness centres when money wasn’t available from the park board.

“Commissioners, I think you’ve been misled. I don’t think you understand the issues at hand,” Lisa Patterson, who said she came to the meeting to represent her family, told the board before the vote. “The park board cannot possibly take an increased role in oversight, in hiring, in programming and not have it cost more money. I don’t think you understand – the associations work for free and for their own individual communities.”

In spite of what many saw as a terrible park-board process, the group representing community centre association presidents says it is willing to try to work out an agreement.

“I think people are feeling a little leery but we’re willing to work in good faith,” said Kate Perkins, chair of the Association Presidents Group and the president of the Trout Lake association.

Ms. Perkins said that at least park-board general manager Malcolm Bromley said publicly at the meeting that the board is willing to negotiate on how the revenues should be shared – the most contentious point in what has been a complex and confusing debate.

Thirteen of the 20 community centre associations are willing to negotiate, Ms. Perkins added. The group is willing to try to start talking by Feb. 16, although Ms. Perkins thinks Mr. Bromley’s three-week deadline is unrealistic.

Currently, the park board and community-centre associations jointly run a nearly $40-million system, where the board contributes $18-million to operations and programs, while another $19-million comes from fees and rentals, much of which is under the control of associations.

The park board says differences in the ability of community centres to generate money have created a system of “have and have-not” centres.

On Monday, some speakers expressed anger that the board made available an updated version of its new proposal only that morning, leaving little time for community-centre associations to sift through the details.

“We feel they [the park board] are leading the public down the path they want for their proposal,” said David Sexton, the former president of the Renfrew community centre association. “We are concerned they are not showing the real numbers, the real process.”

Last week, six community centres put up $200,000 for a campaign advertising what they say are the shortcomings of the new funding model.

Ms. Perkins said she’s hopeful that the board is realizing it is alienating community-centre associations that have traditionally been the moderates.

“If we’re getting mad, they’re doing something wrong,” she said. “You’ve got a bunch of us folks trying to negotiate honestly and we’ve been put in a position where we’ve been pushed.”

Ms. Perkins said there are other models for sharing revenue that do not require full park-board control. She declined to spell them out, saying the negotiations have gotten out of hand as people spread misinformation about the park board initiatives and their impacts.

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