Strong parks = A strong community

Leavitt Tim OpEd

Leavitt Tim OpEdSave our Parks!

All great American cities provide safe parks, networks of trails and recreation programs that are accessible to all of their residents. Our home – Vancouver, Washington – is a great American city and we must ensure that our parks and recreation programs continue to thrive.

In this upcoming election, the voters of Vancouver – including our business community –will decide the fate of our Parks and Recreation programs, into the foreseeable future.

By passing the proposed Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) measure, our revered programs will be saved from further cuts. The MPD will stabilize the current level of maintenance of our parks, preserve our community investment in community centers and park playgrounds, restore health and wellness programs for seniors, restore access to recreation for disabled citizens, and strengthen teen centers and after-school programs. Vancouver will realize these benefits for about $6 per month on an average home.

Why is a Metropolitan Parks District necessary? Our residents, our businesses and prospective employers demand quality parks and recreation services. Unfortunately – and it should come as no surprise – the Parks and Recreation program has been slashed over the past decade. Loss of revenues from Washington voter-approved initiatives 695 (repeal of the motor vehicle excise tax) and 747 (property tax cap of 1 percent) have required local governments, like the city of Vancouver, to begin cutting services and staff levels. The recent economic downturn has amplified the problem. Since 2008, the city’s parks and recreation staff has been cut in half, programs have been eliminated, parks maintenance has been cut to the bare minimum and no new parks are under construction.

We very much want more businesses and jobs opportunities in our city. When prospective employers consider cities like Vancouver, they assess our population and demographics, the quality of our schools, the safety of our city, the business tax climate, the financial strength of the local agencies, our creative community, and the availability of parks, trails and recreation centers for their families and children.

It wasn’t by a stroke of luck that PeaceHealth chose to locate their corporate headquarters and some 500 employees in Vancouver. They enlisted an independent consultant to survey a handful of cities in the Pacific Northwest. Our Vancouver was chosen as the best city due to many factors, one of which was the amenities of parks, trails and community centers.

According to one local CEO, “The decision to relocate our employees was taken very seriously. It was paramount that we chose a new location for headquarters that provided for a nice quality of life for our staff and their families. Amongst several other reasons, one value of Vancouver that stood out was the community investment in parks, trails and recreation programs. Businesses desire to locate and create jobs in cities that value their public assets. We are elated to be in Vancouver, but are concerned about the lacking revenues to maintain these investments.”

How much value does a parks program bring to our city? In 2009, the Trust for Public Lands prepared a report detailing measurable financial benefits to citizens and local agencies (www.tpl.org). Aside from the health benefits to our people and our environment, strong parks and trails and recreation programs breed more business growth, more jobs and more economy. It is that simple.

Save our parks and strengthen our economy. Vote yes for Vancouver’s Metropolitan Parks District this November.

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