Council Tuesday did not change the age eligibility rules for a recreation subsidy.

Council Tuesday did not change the age eligibility rules for a recreation subsidy.

Saanich sticks with terms of seniors subsidy

Perhaps fearing the “wrath” of local seniors seniors, Saanich did not touch the terms of a subsidy for seniors using public recreation facilities.

Council had asked staff to investigate the effects of raising the eligibility age of the subsidy to 65 years from 60. A report from Suzanne Samborski, director of parks and recreation found that the change would have earned Saanich an additional $41,531 (assuming all other factors remained the same), but also political hostility based on the historical record.

Council approved the elimination of the seniors’ subsidy in 2001, but the community “vehemently opposed” the decision. “It would be expected that the community would react in a similiar way,” she said in the report.

Coun. Leif Wergeland referenced this history in his remarks. “When something like this is in place, it really is difficult to change, unless you want the wrath of our seniors, and I don’t think we do. It serves a lot of purposes in allowing these senior discounts. It’s a good thing. But thanks for the report, anyway.”

Coun. Dean Murdock struck a similiar note. The move had the potential to generate some revenue, he said. “But I think it represents a fraction of what would be a much larger societal cost that we would end up paying.” Echoing Samborski’s report, Murdock said the move would have run counter to Saanich’s Older Adult Strategy.

It found among other points that participation rates among older adults depend on their financial abilities, and proximity to public facilities.

“While some older adults can pay full price for recreation, others simply cannot,” said Samborski, citing research that finds half of all provincial seniors earn less than $24,000 a month.

Her report also found a number of other benefits in warning against changing the terms of the subsidy. “Participation in recreation activities provides social, physical, mental and cognitive opportunities that allow older adults to maintain their health and age at home,” she said. “Raising the subsidy age for Saanich residents may result in less seniors staying connected and active.”

While council unanimously agreed to maintain the status quo, the issue may re-surface at some future date.

“I have reached the conclusion that there is no point in going forward on this,” said Coun. Karen Harper. “As a senior, I certainly wouldn’t take advantage of the subsidy.” She also questioned the local applicability of larger provincial findings about the financial state of seniors. “You also need to look at community by community,” she said in questioning whether half of all seniors in Saanich earn less than $24,000. “Which isn’t to say I want you to change anything.” But a future council might well change the age because people are working longer, she said, in pointing to one of the findings of the report.