After much debate, Pitt Meadows council voted to spend $70,000 to hire a consultant to help build a new parks and recreation department.
“This is one of the biggest, scariest issues facing our senior leadership team right now,” Lorna Jones, director of human resources, told council Tuesday.
“This is the second largest department [in the city], and in 12 months we will have no expertise in this area at all.”
On Oct. 20, Maple Ridge council served notice to Pitt Meadows that after a 21-year partnership, it will opt out of the joint service agreement for parks and recreation, effective Oct. 31, 2016.
The parks and recreation staff are all employees of Maple Ridge.
On Tuesday, Pitt council was asked by city staff to approve the hiring of a third party consultant with experience in providing parks and rec services and to work on a smooth transition providing them independently.
The consultant will “identify and evaluate options for the delivery of parks and recreation services and develop a plan to transition the organization from the current joint service delivery model to the new preferred service delivery model,” said the recommendation from staff.
Couns. David Murray, Bruce Bell and Mike Stark balked at the cost, and argued that Pitt Meadows shared costs in parks and rec services should buy them some of the needed information.
Bell said the existing staff should be able to provide some of this work, such as providing an inventory of recreation facilities and services.
He said resources are limited, and the $2.2 million that Pitt Meadows currently puts toward parks and rec joint services should be the new budget for parks and recreation.
“We need to do some work on this,” said Bell. “There’s only so much money, and we have to replicate what we have, and try to make it better.”
He called the hiring “a total waste of up to $70,000.”
Mayor John Becker and Couns. Tracy Miyashita and Bill Dingwall supported the staff initiative.
“Staff are at capacity. This is a huge undertaking. The clock is ticking fast,” said Miyashita.
“We need somebody actively working on a plan – what is this going to look like, how many staff do we need, what programs are we going to offer?”
Miyashita, who previously served as a parks and recreation coordinator in Pitt Meadows, said there are people in the community who have already indicated they would serve on a steering committee, but someone is needed to manage the process.
Becker argued that existing city hall staff lack the capacity to do the job, and it is not reasonable or desirable to have parks and rec staff doing an analysis of the job they have been doing.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to be spending this kind of money,” predicted Becker, adding that parks and rec is a multi-million dollar budget.
“I think it’s money well spent, and I think we need to spend it pretty damn quick,” said Becker.
The two sides also disagreed over whether Pitt Meadows council should see a confidential report presented by senior parks and rec staff to Maple Ridge council, which resulted in the decision to leave the partnership.
Councils are limited in what they can discuss in private – land transactions, labour or personnel issues and legal matters.
Bell argued that some of the information Pitt Meadows is looking for may be found in that report.
It was the main issue for Stark, who said hiring of a consultant should be delayed until council sees that report.
“We haven’t seen the report from parks and leisure senior staff that went to Maple Ridge council, who had a closed meeting and voted for divorce,” said Stark. “I, for one, would like to see that report.
“We paid for 20 per cent of that report,” agreed Coun. Janis Elkerton, saying Pitt council should be entitled to review it.
Dingwall opposed asking for the report, because of strained relations between the cities.
“To go now and demand closed documents from Maple Ridge that they had, in this environment, is again poking the bear,” said Dingwall.
The mayor agreed.
“I think it is highly unlikely that Maple Ridge will disgorge that report they received in camera,” said Becker. “Even if they were to do so – so what? We may or may not agree with it, but they have made their decision,” he added.
“We need to get our act together, and move on.”
Jones spoke against any delay in hiring the consultant, saying that if council wants stakeholder and citizen engagement, the process needs to begin.
“This is going to take us right up to the 11th hour,” said Jones.
Although she expressed concerns about duplicating services, the cost of the consultant, and her desire to see the confidential report, Elkerton voted with Becker, Dingwall and Miyashita to hire the consultant.
Mayor Nicole Read refused to confirm that her council considered a report from recreation staff that has not been viewed by Pitt Meadows.
“Anything we deal with in closed [meeting], is closed. I can’t discuss any details,” said Read.
She said the same confidentiality rules would apply if Pitt Meadows council requested information from a closed meeting.
Tuesday was a council committee meeting, which provides an opportunity to consider and debate matters that will be referred to regular meetings. The result is a recommendation from the council in committee, that is generally, but not always, adopted at the regular meeting. The next regular council meeting is Nov. 17.