A coalition of groups led CUPE Local 4705 is spearheading a fight to save Sudbury’s 120 municipal day care spaces, which are housed at the downtown YMCA.
The CUPE local held two meetings Jan. 22 at CUPE’s Copper Cliff office with staff that would be affected by the cuts, as well as a few parents with children enrolled at the centre. They had planned a rally at the Jan. 21 community services committee, where the cuts were being debated, but called it off due to the extremely cold weather.
Rick Leroux, president of CUPE Local 4705, said they were pleased that the committee asked for an Option 3, which would look at ways of keeping the centre open. He said that gave hope to the people who attended the meetings.
“They were very happy that council put that 3rd option in there,” Leroux said Jan. 22. “We were surprised but pleased. It was nice to see cooler heads prevail.”
A flyer distributed by the group said the care offered at the Junior Citizens Day Care was worth preserving.
“Over 40 years, generations of children and their parents have benefited from the quality, high level care provided at Junior Citizens Daycare, our city’s only public child care centre,” the flyer read. “One of just a few francophone child care programs, Junior Citizens is the only centre that provides late-evening care for parents working nightshift and quality supports for families with special needs children ... Let’s stop the mayor and council from closing Junior Citizens Daycare that 120 families in our community depend on to work and, to retrain for a new career.”
In all, 22 unionized workers staff the centre, and they would have the right to bump other city employees if they are laid off.
A push to close the centre resulted from budget deliberations late last year, when the community services committee asked staff to come up with options on what steps would be necessary to close the day care. They came up with two options, one that would phase in the closure over 2 ½ years, while the other would simply close it by 2015.
While it appeared to be a fait accompli in December, the mood was different Jan. 21, with many councillors calling for an Option 3, which would look for way to reduce the $129,000 cost to taxpayers for operating the centre, while allowing it to remain open.
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau said he received a few calls about the day care, including from people worried over losing a spot in the centre’s evening service. The day care is the only one in Sudbury that operates until 11 p.m.
“It’s a difficult decision,” Barbeau said. “At the end of the day, we have to make a decision that’s right for the corporation, especially having come through a difficult budget session.”
However, he said he’s not willing to support closing the centre unless he was certain a private-sector operator would start offering the evening service.
“Have we had those discussions yet? Or are we just being optimistic? I need to know someone is going to pick them up.”
Staff replied they have had preliminary talks with some operators about offering the late service, and there may be provincial grants to help them get started.
“There’s definitely some interest,” said Ron Henderson, director of citizen services. “But we cannot give a 100 per cent guarantee that it will last. Someone will give it a go, but whether it will be successful or not, that’s a hard call.
Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume, a new member of the committee, suggested looking for an Option 3, saying it was a unique service that’s worth preserving.
“I know we’re always looking for ways to save money, but I think we also have to provide services to the community,” Berthiaume said. “I think we need to maybe look at an Option 3. It’s been there for 40 years. It’s easy to terminate services that we provide to the community. But I think we need a committee of councillors and some of the stakeholders to review this, just like we did at Pioneer Manor.”
Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino said the future of the day care is only being debated because it costs taxpayers money. Key to keeping it open would be to get it to a break even.
“Are there ways to increase revenues and reduce expenses?” Cimino asked. “Have we gone through that process?”
He also said asked staff how much the city will save on the building in 2015, when the lease expires and the city takes over ownership of the building housing day care. Staff replied it will save the city about $16,000 a year.
“That’s a good start,” Cimino said. “I support us proceeding with an Option 3.”
Staff said they could come up with a new report with three options by May, when the issue will come up for debate again.