Toronto's municipal government has reached a five-year agreement to keep funding 33 school pools, but the deal doesn't mean the facilities are safe from closing.
The Parks, Forestry and Recreation department has agreed to pay the Toronto District School Board $5.92-million this year to operate the pools – $285,316 less than council budgeted for 2012.
"I would hope it means the pools are safe because not only are they in the [funding]envelope now, but the lease rates have gone down," said councillor Paula Fletcher, whose Toronto-Danforth ward includes a school pool narrowly rescued from closing at council's budget debate in January.
But Toronto's budget chief says that just because the city and school board have set future fee rates – which would rise by the rate of inflation or approximately 1.6 per cent annually to $6.52-million in 2017 – doesn't mean council can't pull the funding in future budgets.
"As far as I'm concerned, I don't agree. I don't support that," Councillor Mike Del Grande said of the proposed five-year deal. "The problem with this council is they don't know how to say 'no' and they don't know how to streamline what needs to be streamlined."
The future of Toronto's school pools has been up in the air for years.
The TDSB has a total of 64 pools at schools across the city, 31 of which are operated by the board without any municipal involvement or money.
The other 33 offer city-run programs, such as swimming lessons, on nights and weekends and during the summer.
For that privilege, the city pays the operating costs of those 33 pools. The most recent agreement on how much the city pays expired in 2011.
The new deal not only sets the rates, it also requires that either side provide notice by Jan. 1 if they intend to close a pool by Sept. 1 of the same year.
The TDSB has said that if Toronto were to stop paying the operating costs, the board would have to drain the pools.
Seven pools almost met that fate in this year's budget, but a motion moved by centrist Councillor Josh Colle restored the funding and kept the facilities afloat.
Now some councillors who nearly lost pools in their wards, including Ms. Fletcher, are working with the board and the city to rent out the facilities for birthday parties and other swimming events to rake in extra revenue.
Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette, who nearly lost the pool at Runnymede Collegiate Institute in her ward, said the city needs to be much more aggressive about permitting out the pools.
"I'm just saying to the city, if you're concerned about putting out the $5-million or $6-million, do something about it," she said.