A proposed funding increase for a subsidy program will make it easier for families living near Bathurst and Finch to access local recreational activities, says James Pasternak.
The York Centre councillor said a $1.2 million increase in Toronto’s Welcome Policy, as outlined in the recently launched 2012 draft operating budget, is the “second-best scenario” to declaring the Antibes Community Centre a high-needs facility. The fee subsidy program provides free access to rec programs for low-income individuals and families.
Pasternak has not been successful in attempts to get program fees waived at the Antibes Community Centre since he took office last year. Though the centre is located in Westminster-Branson, one of Toronto’s 13 designated high-needs neighbourhoods, users must still pay the full fee.
“We were not treated fairly under the current system because people had to pay for the programs and then apply for the Welcome Policy. The Welcome Policy was capped,” Pasternak said.
“Ideally, we put more funding into the Welcome Policy and that means residents from our ward can go to any community centre with their subsidy. It’s more transferable.”
Pasternak has said in the past the fees affect participation rates in a neighbourhood where the average annual family income is about $30,000 lower than Toronto’s average.
While he won’t support all of the $88 million in cuts listed in the budget, Pasternak says proposed user fee hikes like the 10 cent TTC fare hike, and a 2.5 percent property tax hike were trade-offs in helping to minimize more widespread service reductions.
“We listened to hundreds of deputants who wanted to preserve city programs and many of them said to save these programs we’re willing to pay a property tax increase, and also increases in various fees,” Pasternak said. “So that’s what this budget is.”
However, Ward 33 councillor Shelley Carroll takes a different view on the budget, saying the 2,300 city staff cuts will have a detrimental domino effect on programs in her ward. Though her Don Valley East ward is largely spared from a number of program cuts like aquatic and rec programming at Toronto District School Board facilities, the former budget chief said the proposed slashing of the equivalent of 176 full-time staff in parks and recreation is leaving youth in her ward out in the cold.
“What we’re really talking about is 500 kids who helped deliver recreation programs. That’s net impact,” she said. “That’s big in North York, we rely on those things to keep our youth and our children engaged.
“It’s not like the theatre or music scene is right there in their midst. In their neighbourhoods they go to their community recreation centre and they go to the library to do cultural activities.”
Carroll questioned the proposal to reduce local sidewalk snow clearing to save just under $1 million.
“Because we have so many seniors living in their homes, the idea of going out with the machine and patchwork finding the seniors on the street and leaving the rest is not operationally efficient,” she said. “Might as well just run the machine down the street.”
The councillor said various local community stakeholders have already begun mobilizing in preparation for community consultation and budget reviews. She expects to see a dramatically different budget after council members provide input and vote.
“I think that between now and January 17th if the community comes out to speak to us, I think the community will help us form a list that we can build a consensus around,” Carroll said. “We don’t need to do 44 individual little showpieces in there.”
Council will discuss and vote on the budget on Jan. 17–19.