OUTRAGEOUS! I can’t think of anything else to say in response to the suggestion that members of the Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre should have their membership fees increased by up to 33% in order to bring them in line with the rates being paid by other fitness centres that do not have comparable facilities. City staff wants to raise an additional $53,000 in total revenue during the next year with increases that will force Valley East and Capreol residents to pay more for the services they have been enjoying for 30 years.

Council has already approved the rate increases which will force families with young children as well as seniors and people with low incomes to shoulder the entire burden. Some families will be facing increased costs of over $1000 a year to provide their children with the same programs and access to swimming as they did last year. Seniors and youth will be forced to accept exorbitant fee increases in order to access the centre’s facilities and programs. This is completely unacceptable in an age when we are trying to encourage families, youth and seniors to become physically active and adopt a healthier style of living. It is also unacceptable to rob parents and individuals with low incomes of the opportunity to take part in wholesome recreational programs and public swimming.

The Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre was built in 1983 amid much debate and discussion among residents at the time about the merits of investing so much money in a state-of-the-art recreation facility. The main argument was that despite the cost, the HARC would provide affordable fitness options for generations to come and would become the focal point for the Town of Valley East. It would be located in the heart of the community with the library, a new Town Hall, and a huge soccer complex where our community could gather and come together for all purposes and reasons. It was going to be the Town Centre and we were assured that the membership rates would always remain family friendly and would encourage people from Valley East to take part in the use of the facilities in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It was not just being built for the children of the residents living in Valley East at the time. It was being built for the grandchildren of those residents and would be used to attract people to live in Valley East because of the recreation facilities available.

Valley East became the 6th largest city in Northern Ontario only to be amalgamated into the City of Greater Sudbury a year after we became a city. Ever since amalgamation, our services have been reduced, our taxes have been increased, development charges are high, we pay more for our fire protection, we have fewer police on patrol, our transit services are well below the standard of the city proper, and yet we have been told time and time again over the past thirteen years that all of this has been in our best interests. But if you ask anyone who was living in Valley East prior to amalgamation, they will tell you that we were generally much better off when we were on our own - financially and politically.

What the City Council proposes to do with the membership fees for the Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre is the last straw for many residents of Valley East and falls in the realm of, “What were they thinking? Are they trying to start up the whole de-amalgamation movement again?”

Access to adequate and affordable recreation facilities is a “right”, not a “privilege” for residents of a community. The taxpayers of Valley East paid for the Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre and were guaranteed affordable rates. If other fitness centres are charging rates that are so high their membership is lower than it should be, then the solution is to lower the membership rates to a level that will encourage more members to join. You don’t raise the rates in Valley East, which has the highest membership totals in the City in order to overcome the shortfall. That is going to drive families and seniors away from the recreation centre and will actually result in less revenue being earned and more of a deficit.

This has been a very quiet election campaign period up until now. This attempt by the City staff and Councillors to impose a direct tax on the people who can least afford it – individuals on low and fixed incomes, families, youth and seniors – is going to be a wakeup call, not only for residents of the outlying areas but also for people living in the rest of the City who will soon find that services which they require in order to maintain an affordable quality of life are going to cost them more than they can afford. I for one, intend to defend the rights of families, youth and seniors living in Valley East and the rest of Ward 5. I hope other candidates will join me.



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