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Christmas in Williams Park to cost $250K after Township takeover

Council votes to assume control from volunteer society after 33 years
A visitor made a donation at Christmas in Williams Park in 2023. The Township is now taking over the annual event from its volunteer society. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley Township council has voted to take over Christmas in Williams Park from the volunteer organization that has run it for 33 years.

Council voted to spend $250,000 this year in startup and staffing costs to run the annual event, which lights up the rural park with Christmas decorations and inflatables for visitors during December every year.

“It was a complete ambush, is what it was,” said Barb Sharp, president of Christmas in Williams Park Society.

The society knew there would be a staff report coming forward at the Monday, May 13 meeting about the annual event. But Sharp said they had no advance warning that staff would be recommending the Township take over the event entirely.

During the society’s discussions with Township staff earlier this year, ameliorating traffic back ups had been the major discussion point. The society was looking to put a ticketing system in place, along with other traffic control measures to deal with it.

But council ultimately voted six to three for an option that includes spending $140,000 for new lights, plus $110,000 this year for operational costs, for an entirely Township-run version of the event.

PREVIOUSLY: Christmas in Williams Park will go on this year, council confirms

Although the event has gone through a number of changes over its history, in recent years volunteers bought the lights, ran the evening events, and collected donations to buy new and replacement decorations, while Township staff have undertaken to set up and take down the lights.

Last year the event almost wasn’t held when the Township considered withholding staff support, but in October the council voted unanimously to allocate $50,000 worth of staff time for the effort.

Speaking after Monday’s vote, Sharp said taking over the entire event with little to no notice was disrespectful of the society’s volunteers.

She also found it bizarre that the Township was worried about costs last year, and will now be spending five times as much to run the event, including start up costs.

Some councillors were in favour of the change, including Coun. Tim Baillie, who compared it to the firefighter-run Bright Nights, and Coun. Misty vanPopta, who has repeatedly raised concerns about traffic jams and safety issues related to Christmas in Williams Park.

Three councillors voted against the change.

“This is a really sad moment,” said Coun. Margaret Kunst.

“I hope that we’re not going to do this with other societies in the Township of Langley,” she added.

Coun. Barb Martens called it an example of local government overreach.

She also emphasized the much higher cost of the Township running the event directly, as opposed to supporting volunteers.

“How is it beneficial financially?” Martens said.

Mayor Eric Woodward said the money for the new, Township-run version of the event will come from funding that has already been approved for community events in the most recent civic budget.

“It’s dependent on Township staff, and it’s at a Township park,” Woodward said. “Sounds like a Township event to me.”

Martens, Kunst, and Coun. Kim Richter voted against the project.

Sharp said that unless the Township council changes its mind, the Christmas in Williams Park Society will likely have to wind up. She was to meet with the society’s board in the days after the vote.

If the board decides to shut down the society, its lights and other assets would likely be sold or given to other non-profits.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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