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Renfrew versus the Vancouver Park Board

Membership fee spat sours community centre association
Hazel Hollingdale
Hazel Hollingdale, president of the Renfrew Park Community Association, says the refusal of the park board to sell association memberships has it "weighing all options." Photo Dan Toulgoet

A dispute with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation over membership fees could dampen next month’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Renfrew Park Community Centre.

Renfrew Park Community Association president Hazel Hollingdale said Park Board ordered community centre staff to not charge the association’s $3 membership fee when registration for fall programs opened Aug. 11.

During a trial period that began last September, membership fees were waived and low-income users could register for seasonal programs at half-price, with the remainder subsidized. RPCA previously charged $8 for families, $6 for adults and $3 for children, seniors and youths and the program subsidies were capped at $50. Subsidy costs rose from $3,000 to $11,000, so the association imposed the flat $3 fee.

“Park Board had requested that we raise our program fees in order to cover the excess costs of this enhanced subsidization,” Hollingdale told the Courier. She said her board felt raising program costs would be unfair to low-income users and membership sales would be a sustainable revenue source.

RPCA memberships are sold upon request, but Park Board chair Aaron Jasper told the Courier "we're not going to force our staff to force these memberships on patrons."

Park Board sought to eliminate membership fees after imposing the universal OneCard across the 22-centre system last year. It claimed 7,000 OneCards have been issued at Renfrew Park, of which 536 were to low-income users.

Hollingdale said a meeting last week with general manager Malcolm Bromley and director of recreation Thomas Soulliere was fruitless. She said elected officials of the Vision Vancouver majority Park Board have not responded to her emails and Comm. Sarah Blyth, liaison to Renfrew Park, has not attended RPCA meetings.

Bromley did not respond for comment. Jasper deferred to a prepared statement sent to the Courier by city hall’s communications department. That statement branded the RPCA membership fee “regressive and out-of-touch with the community’s desire to have fewer barriers to accessing the city’s network of community centres.” The statement said it violates the interim agreement between the centre and the Park Board.

“A planned evaluation to assess the impact of the Interim Agreement is currently being carried out by a joint committee and the Association’s attempt to exit from the agreement before this is completed is not acting in good faith,” read the statement.

Non-profit RPCA said it has attracted $2 million in grants over the past decade to support artists, lunch programs and services for children and youths and it has reinvested $15 million into the community centre for renovations, equipment and funding Park Board staff positions.

For the year-ended Aug. 31, 2013, RPCA reported $827,715 revenue and $804,337 expenses for a $23,378 surplus. The lion’s share of revenue ($638,935) came from program operations. It also sold $4,570 of memberships, down from $5,937 a year earlier.

RPCA was among the majority of community centre associations that entered talks with Park Board aimed at a new joint operating agreement. An interim agreement was reached in June 2013.

Six dissenting associations seeking to retain autonomy sued Park Board. A Jan. 17 B.C. Supreme Court judgment blocked Park Board from canceling their joint operating agreements.

Hollingdale said negotiations are taking a toll on the volunteer board. “The only reason we're there is because we really just want to find a way of enhancing our community centre-to-community centre system.”

The latest development, however, has RPCA “weighing all options.”

“This isn't about a $3 membership policy, the actual crux of the issue here is the overriding of community-directed policies,” Hollingdale said. “They're acting as if they have the right and the social licence to take this move. I don't think they do, it's a complete lack of respect for communities in Vancouver.”

Note: This story has been corrected since it was first posted.