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community-centre associations

Joyce Clearihue, 85, takes part in the Strong Seniors fitness class at the Monterey Recreation Centre in Oak Bay, BC Tuesday May 29, 2012.Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail

People embroiled in Vancouver's current civic strife over community-centre operations are hoping that a hastily called park-board meeting Monday will result in better negotiations over who should control what in the centres.

But no one knows exactly what is going to happen to resolve what has been months of simmering tension over the board's efforts to renegotiate the 40-year partnership it has with the city's 20 volunteer community-centre associations – a move that one side says is about creating equity and the other insists is just a cash grab.

"We're as confused about this meeting as everyone," said Ainslie Kwan, president of the Killarney Community Centre association, one of the six centres that has been vocal about opposing the plan shown so far. "It could be a bit of a gong show, but we hope it means that we'll go into negotiations that are open."

The issue has become a political hot potato, with critics saying it demonstrates the ongoing inability of the Vision Vancouver party, which controls city council, school board and park board, to consult with its communities.

The staff report that is supposed to form the basis for the special meeting Monday was being written over the weekend and won't be available until just before the meeting Monday night.

Park-board commissioner Niki Sharma said there will be no definitive motion at the meeting. Instead, it is meant to provide an update, outline how to go forward, and give everyone a chance to talk about the issue publicly.

Ms. Sharma said the two parties are closer than most people realize.

"We have received a proposal from the centres in January and it showed they were in agreement about the basics," said Ms. Sharma. "The concern is about landing on the right financial model." She said 15 of the centres have been negotiating with board staff to find the right fit for both sides. "I'm hopeful we'll get to that stage with the others."

But the smaller group of centres openly opposed say they've been told the board's position on all issues is "non-negotiable," which is what prompted two of them to hold public meetings last week that turned into trials by fire for park-board staff and Vision commissioners.

The basic issues are about access and money. Currently, the park board and the associations run centres jointly, with a slightly different arrangement at each centre.

Generally, the board provides the buildings, heat, light, maintenance and some staff, as well as running large operations like rinks and pools.

The associations operate many of the programs in those buildings, hiring the instructors, collecting the money from classes and membership fees, and sometimes operating child-care programs or deciding to spend the profits from their programs to outfit new fitness centres or other amenities.

Park-board general manager Malcolm Bromley, who has been presenting the plan for a new relationship to association boards for the past several months, has been arguing for a system that is more equitable, with similar fees, programs and access for low-income households in all parts of the city.

But Mr. Bromley, who pitched the plan during summer meetings alongside city manager Penny Ballem, also suggested the board should take over more programming, staffing and revenues.

He has also said that the approximately $1-million surplus generated among some centres every year should be spread around to help centres that aren't able to raise that kind of money from their programs.

That sparked criticisms from some centres and the political opposition that Vision was just trying to take control, in order to get the surpluses to run a system that it has squeezed through budget cuts since taking power in 2008.

Go here to enter a discussion about the community centres issue.