Free programs cost more

Families going to recreation centres

Families going to recreation centres may
be faced with
rising fees in programs.

A proposal to increase user fees for some community centre programs by as much as 50 per cent was met with mostly positive reaction at a public meeting in Scarborough earlier this month.

The plan, titled “Everyone Gets to Play”, aims to institute 500 new drop-in programs for adults, children and seniors. It also offers additional financial assistance to low-income families.

It goes to the full Toronto council on March 3.

“The first thing this is about is increasing people’s participation and targeting youth and children,” said Brenda Librecz, general manager of the parks and recreation department. “We’re trying to ensure that everyone gets to participate regardless of income or where they live.”

Included will be the implementation of three city wide programs. These include swimming, skating and leadership skill workshops to students in grades four, five, eight and nine.

All three would be in collaboration with the Toronto District School Board with skating and swimming offered at recreation centres during school hours. For kids who don’t have their own helmets and ice skates the program would provide them for free.

The youth leadership program would take place after school on a volunteer basis, teaching those in grades eight and nine necessary workplace skills. Job placement opportunities would also be available in the parks.

“I think employment opportunities should be offered to all high school students,” said Gathya Manoharan, a student from R.H. King high school, at the public meeting.

The gradual increase in fees would result in the price for a child’s learn to swim program to rise from $10.67 to $17.25 in 2011.

That increase would only apply to programs that are currently paid for by users while programs currently free would not be affected. The other 50 per cent of fees would continue to be subsidized by property taxes.

Price increases would not be as high in surrounding areas of the GTA, says Frisca Ozorio, chair of the Santamonica-Birchmount Neighbourhood Association.

“The price increase does not seem outrageous, it’s very reasonable,” she says. “It seems like compared to other municipalities Toronto makes it very affordable.”

Consideration is also given for families and individuals who do not qualify for the low-income cut off but still cannot afford the new costs, Librecz said.

Currently, free programs are made available on the basis of geography. However, the proposed initiative aims to increase equality and accessibility among users by providing the same complimentary programs at all of the city’s recreation centres.

“I support this idea because it’s filling big gaps and having the new free programs meets the idea of universal access,” said east Scarborough resident Saira Ansari.