I feel that it is important to provide a response to recent public criticism directed towards city council with respect to the way we have been addressing of the needs and concerns of older adults. The criticism unfairly implies that staff have also been insensitive to seniors with respect to the issues they are dealing with, since staff are the ones who recommend and/or implement most of the policies approved by council.
For the record, despite what you might hear from some of the local detractors, staff and city councillors are indeed listening and responding to seniors living the City of Greater Sudbury. In fact, 2019 especially was a year when we made tremendous strides forward, laying the groundwork for some transformational changes that will enhance the overall health and well-being of all citizens in our city, especially seniors. We can’t do everything in a year, and we can’t be held responsible for what has gone on in the past. But we are doing what we can today to build a better tomorrow for our seniors.
To put things into perspective, there are almost 30,000 people 65 years of age and older already living in Greater Sudbury. Another 24,000 people between the ages of 55 and 64 will be entering the senior age category over the next 10 years. In addition, there are 24,000 people between the ages of 45 and 54 who have a vested interest in how the city is adjusting to the needs of our aging population since many of them are already providing some level of family caregiving support to older parents and relatives.
Staff and City Council are definitely aware of the pressure being felt by our aging population. I can assure you that policy decisions we make and choices we are faced with at city council are being looked at carefully through a “seniors’ lens” by staff and councillors alike.
We are also well aware that the increasing cost of living, including municipal taxes, is making it much more difficult for many seniors to cope financially while they strive to age in place within their existing homes. We are therefore trying our best to keep taxes as low as possible while still meeting our fiduciary obligations to all age groups in the city.
Many of our critics would rather city council refrain from raising taxes by choosing instead measures such as cutting services, cutting staff who provide those services, and from avoiding investment in infrastructure. This criticism is coming at a time when we need to increase our service levels for older adults and disadvantaged constituents; we need more staff to provide those services at home to seniors; and we need more investment in infrastructure renewal which will generate future economic growth.
All of this costs money which must come from property owners, many of whom are the very seniors who will be relying more and more on these services in the coming years. We know that an increase in taxes and water rates will have an impact on seniors and low-income families, but unfortunately there is no other choice. We need to balance our budget and most of our revenue must come from property taxes applied against the value of the property regardless of who owns it.
There are claims that the large projects such as the KED and the Downtown Junction will end up costing taxpayers unnecessary money and stress, but this is simply not true. We need these investments to generate future residential and commercial growth in order to help pay for the city services. There are many low-income wage earners who are also looking forward to the hundreds of jobs that will be available through these investments. Older adults are among those who are encouraged by the renewal that is taking place in our city because it means their grandchildren might find a future for themselves here in Sudbury, rather than having to move away.
Staff and city councillors know that we need far more: affordable housing; low-cost transit; more cultural and recreational activities geared to seniors; better access to health care; and the need to assist with a host of other issues and concerns. We are trying to meet those needs within very tight financial constraints with little support from senior levels of government.
A very successful Seniors' Summit was held at the end of 2019. Hundreds of seniors and caregivers attended two sessions and provided almost 200 recommendations for dealing with their issues and concerns. These recommendations are being reviewed by the Seniors’ Advisory Panel, which will bring forward a report to city council that will assist in the development of a formal Seniors’ Strategy to inform and guide future policies.
We are looking at a major redevelopment project for Pioneer Manor that will provide 149 residents with the kind of modern environment that is more conducive to addressing their increasingly complex health care needs.
When those current spaces are vacated, it will provide an opportunity for us to repurpose the older rooms as a low cost seniors’ residence. Some of the space might also be used to provide transitional accommodations for ALC patients so that they no longer need to wait in hallways and storage rooms at HSN until they can be moved into a long-term-care facility. It is important for us to move forward with the redevelopment so that we can address the critical needs of our seniors in the community.
We are also in the process of renewing our social housing portfolio, opening the opportunity to build new housing units and establish options such as shared housing, co-housing and the inclusion of secondary units throughout the community to address the demand for suitable and affordable housing for seniors.
We are revitalizing our playgrounds and are making sure to include amenities such as shaded areas, accessible walking paths, portable toilets, adult exercise equipment, and more strategically placed tables and benches in order to encourage seniors to get out and utilize these neighbourhood parks. Indeed, the twin-pad project in Valley East will include the revitalization of the parkland so that seniors and people with mobility issues will be able to enjoy the trails and amenities.
In conclusion, I trust that most of the residents in the City of Greater Sudbury understand their elected representatives are always listening to them and are doing everything we can to make this truly an age friendly community where seniors will always be treated with dignity and respect. Staff and city councillors will continue to make decisions and investments that ensure long term growth and prosperity for all residents, regardless of age. But as we look towards the future, I can guarantee everyone that the future will always include enhancements to our infrastructure and services which will address the health and well-being needs of our older adults.
Robert Kirwan is the city councillor for Ward 5.