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Youth centre petition causes outrage

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Over 2,000 people have signed an online petition opposing new fees being introduced at the Nelson youth centre, but city staff believes it's all a big misunderstanding.

Many of the petitioners believe the youth centre to be completely free, but in fact a small daily fee has long been charged to skateboarders and participants in certain programs. According to a city press release, they're actually trying to make things cheaper.

"There is still a daily rate. However, we have introduced a monthly rate to make it more affordable for regular users," chief financial officer Colin McClure told the Star, after the petition had spread on social media.

He believes it's based on a false premise.

"Some facts are incorrect and there are some half truths without context that have created unnecessary controversy."

Currently skateboard park users are charged on a sliding scale starting at $2 and $3 a day according to age, and McClure said the monthly fee of $15 was designed to give them a financial break — the opposite of what the petition claims.

The petition was written and created by former youth centre coordinator Stephanie Meitz, who wrote on change.org that the fee change "means that the youth who frequent the space the most, and need it the most, being our marginalized youth, will no longer be able to use the space."

McClure expressed frustration with the wording of the petition.

"We've always been cognizant that we're working with at-risk youth, many who have financial challenges, but we have solidly trained support workers who can identify who those kids are and approach them in a discreet manner," he said.

"We never want to point it out, or ostracize them, or make an issue in front of their peers — and that's not changed. And we'll never turn anyone away."

The youth centre is going through a tumultuous period following a staff vote to unionize — they signed a collective agreement with the city in April — and they've brought on a number of people to try to revamp its programming, including former city councillor Paula Kiss, who has since left.

But according to Meitz' successor Sarah Winton, who recently left her position to take the role of deputy corporate officer in the city, that's not going to happen. In a press release welcoming new manager Alanna Carmichael, she reassured parents that their kids will continue to be welcomed inside whether they have cash on them or not.

"The NDYC supports a diverse population of youth. Our number-one goal is to provide a safe space, with exceptional service and programming to all youth," she wrote.

"We never turn anyone away, and believe fees should never discourage users from accessing the centre. If any youth can't pay this we waive the fee, as we have always done. No one is ever turned away from the NDYC."

McClure noted that the tech club is moving into the facility, and plans to charge as it always had. They're hoping to team up with the club to come up with a member card system like the one currently being used at the Nelson and District Community Complex.

"We're feeling a bit low considering that this is coming right as we're getting excited about the takeoff for the new season and all the new programming we're introducing," he said.

For instance, on October 1 the youth centre will host a food truck festival and flea market that's an all-ages event open to the public — which will give residents an opportunity to give staff feedback on the facility's future, according to a city press release.

"The youth centre acknowledges the recent outpouring of public opinion and welcome youth centre supporters to attend this event, check out what's happening at the NDYC and share thoughts and ideas."

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