Richmond council halts seniors discount age change

City council will take a “sober second look” at a previous decision to raise the age of seniors discounts at Richmond recreation facilities from 55 to 65.

The change was set to roll out throughout the month of July to offset a new low-income subsidy program for all ages.

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Rory Sutter, a local realtor, had collected names on a petition opposing the change, and he spoke to council on Monday, arguing people aged 55 to 64 are both struggling to help their grown children and support their aging parents. He disagreed with statistics that show this age group has the highest disposable income.

“We live in an age where information can be manipulated, just like numbers, to support any rationale,” he said. “Not everyone in this community drives Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Mercedes or BMWs – there are two Richmonds.”

In his presentation to council, Sutter emphasized the importance of keeping the “mature” population active, adding it would decrease health-care costs.

Coun. Harold Steves asked whether city staff have analyzed the value of getting people in their 50s active. Staff replied that, to make a life-long difference, studies show fitness needs to start at the age of two or three.

Coun. Carol Day said the change in age needs a “sober second look,” pointing out that 600 names were collected in the petition, and she made a motion to refer it back to staff for further review and analysis of options. 

Mayor Malcolm Brodie pointed out at Monday’s meeting the fee subsidy and age change have been in the works for two years and, now, when it’s being implemented and the public has been informed about the changes, that’s when council hears about it.

“If we haven’t communicated properly, it’s not for want of trying,” Brodie said.

In the end, the moratorium was supported by all of council and more information is expected back in September.

City staff have estimated the increase in revenue from raising the age of the discount would be between $130,000 and $150,000, which would offset the expanded fee subsidy program. The age change was recommended by the city’s community associations.

The subsidy allows a 90-per-cent discount on programs up to $300 a year for youth 0-18 and $100 for adults, free admission to aquatic centres, arenas and other benefits like free aquafit, free admission to fitness centres and free skate rentals.

Those applying are income-tested for the subsidy. Previously, fee subsidies were only available for children and youth.

Julie Halfnights, the past-president with Thompson Community Association board, said her community centre association consulted its seniors committee about the age change and they were on board with it.

Halfnights said she was informed by her council liaison, Linda McPhail, and by city staff on Tuesday about the moratorium, and she was told the city would bear the costs of the subsidy until the situation gets sorted out.

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