Let seniors keep rec passes

We didn’t publish the headline, ‘City heartlessly wrenches rec passes out of 80-year-olds’ arthritic grasp,’ but we might have.

We didn’t publish the headline, ‘City heartlessly wrenches rec passes out of 80-year-olds’ arthritic grasp,’ but we might have.

The City of Nanaimo’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission is recommending dropping a program that offers free rec passes for residents 80-plus.

The optics are terrible, but beyond that, it’s just a bad idea.

City councillor Fred Pattje suggests it’s a move to help create a leaner budget, but the dollars don’t seem to add up.

City staff calculates that the senior subsidy program has cost almost $65,000 since 2010, but let’s remember that money isn’t hard currency – free rec passes are more of an in-kind service.

The aquatic centre is going to be open anyway, so it might as well get some use. It’s not as though the 80-plus crowd is running on the pool deck, prompting reprimands from lifeguards and putting a stress on staffing levels. More likely, those folks are swimming laps peacefully, probably during non-peak hours.

Some octogenarians would pay to continue to use the rec centres, and some would probably access the Leisure Economic Access Program for low-income residents. But by complicating the process, we’d be turning away some of these citizens and some of them would just stay at home in their easy chair. It follows that a less-active senior population is more likely to incur other health-care costs, which would be borne by the taxpayer anyway.

Surely there are other inefficiencies within the parks and rec department that we should be examining first, before we start clawing back seniors’ rec passes. The city did promise to go over the budget line by line this year, but in targeting this particular program, it’s crossed a line.

Yes, we want a lean budget. But we don’t want a mean budget.