Slashing city-funded recreational services could have dire consequences for Toronto’s youth, former mayor John Sewell told councillors on Day 2 of budget public consultations.
Speaking at city hall on Dec. 8, Sewell said cutting shared-used programming at local schools would be a “really dumb decision” that could send the city’s kids down a dangerous path.
“It’s absolutely clear, you cut out recreation programs for kids and guess what — some of them turn to criminal and delinquent activities, which has very, very heavy costs for society.”
Sewell, a vocal advocate regarding matters of public safety, urged councillors to reconsider axing programming at 12 of the 29 schools where the city has shared-use agreements. The move would save the city over $2 million, but effectively cut 230,000 visits to public schools for arts, fitness and leadership programs.
During his three-minute presentation, Sewell said the city has an obligation to increase, not decrease, funding to youth programs. He added the city has the surplus money to avoid such cuts.
Sewell derided the suggestion of user fees for such programs, saying it wouldn’t serve low-income youth.
“The ones at the bottom are the most likely to get themselves in to trouble,” he said. “They don’t have the family resources, they don’t have the economic resources, they don’t hook up as well as they should with kids in schools.”
Schools with programs on the chopping block include Hillcrest Community School, Earl Beatty, James S. Bell, John English and McNicoll.
“You shut these programs, they’re going to be sitting empty, this is craziness,” he said. “And kids are going to suffer because of that.”
Sewell was one of hundreds of Torontonians who voiced concerns about a variety of service cuts proposed in the draft budget, including aquatic programs at school pools, transit service, student nutrition programs and health programs.
Though some presenters were in favour of user fees, by and large, councillors were urged to find other means to avoid making any of the proposed cuts, budget chief Mike Del Grande told reporters after two days of public deputations concluded on Dec. 8.
“I don’t think anybody said too much of anything other than bring back the car registration tax, I heard that over and over again,” he said, adding he was doubtful Mayor Rob Ford would consider the suggestion. Ford campaigned on removing the $60 Vehicle Registration Tax, and was successful in doing so last year.
City council will vote on the budget Jan. 17–19.
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