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Savings from abolishing park board still unclear, Vancouver council hears

Click to play video: 'Vancouver mayor forges ahead with dismantling park board'
Vancouver mayor forges ahead with dismantling park board
WATCH: Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is putting in motion his plans to eliminate the Vancouver Park Board, creating a transition team to guide the process. Where does that leave current Vancouver Park Board Commissioners? We speak with Laura Christensen about that. – Jan 26, 2024

Potential cost savings from eliminating the Vancouver Park Board remain unclear nearly two months after council passed a resolution aimed at scrapping the elected body.

The ongoing lack of clarity emerged as councillors heard an update on the proposed parks governance transition by deputy city manager Sandra Singh on Wednesday.

Mayor Ken Sim has said bringing parks administration under city council’s authority will streamline decision-making and save millions of dollars.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Park Board seeks legal review of mayor’s abolition plan'
Vancouver Park Board seeks legal review of mayor’s abolition plan

But Singh told councillors that city staff have been unable to produce any concrete numbers, citing a park board direction to its staff not to support any planning work for a transition.

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“We can see the potential for some immediate opportunities but we wouldn’t want to finalize those our necessarily put out numbers or ideas until we have had the chance to talk to our PB colleagues,” Singh told council.

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“When we look at service redesign or operational restructuring, we want to make sure we have the information we need to make the best decisions possible … When people’s work is involved, we do try to engage them in those discussions,” she added.

The province has told the city its transition plan must address several key questions, including First Nations consultation and what will happen to assets and workers.

Singh told councillors Wednesday that the transition wasn’t about reducing service or jobs.

“Any changes that we might make in terms of organizational structure, we would seek to do that as feasible through reassignments, through attrition, through vacancies. That is an assurance we have made,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean that there aren’t changes and that people might not have a role change they might not have foreseen for themselves, but we are really trying to keep to that commitment.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver announces Park Board transition group'
Vancouver announces Park Board transition group

Singh told council she was hopeful the provincial government could make the necessary changes to the Vancouver Charter to enable the transition in the upcoming spring legislative session.

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That would allow staff to return in May with recommendations on key governance and regulatory changes, such as how council would manage parks-related decisions or what park board bylaws and policies would need to be repealed or revised.

Staff are also continuing to work on possible short-term opportunities for integrating city and park operations, with more in-depth plans on hold until they can work with their counterparts under park board jurisdiction.

“Starting to think about and plan for some of those impacts and outcomes and opportunities we would pursue should we be in a position to have unified governance in the city,” Singh said.

Talks with First Nations remain ongoing, Singh said, adding that the city “can confirm there is no intent” to disrupt ongoing work with them regarding parks.

The update came days after a majority of park board commissioners voted to allocate $20,000 to retain independent legal counsel and potentially seek judicial review of the abolishment plan.

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