Hockey Association cuts practices as arena ice gets more and more expensive to make and maintain; township cites hydro costs

The Chesterville Arena, one of two artificial ice facilities owned by rural North Dundas Township. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Arena rental rates proved a hot topic at the North Dundas Council table as soaring hydro costs are ultimately passed along to user groups who are, as a consequence, cutting the time their young hockey players spend on ice.

Council discussed the issue Aug. 9 in response to a letter from Peter Forrester, president of the North Dundas Minor Hockey Association, requesting additional consideration on the township’s  ice rate and allocation policy.

Jumping 26 percent in the last two years, renting ice at the Chesterville and Winchester arenas is the Association’s largest single cost. Up $27,000 over last year alone, ice time costs are set to consume 67 cents of every dollar in fees the Association collects from players and their families this season, and that’s only after the organization imposes more registration hikes, cuts ice time to just one practice per week, and also digs deeper into reserves while operating at an expected deficit.

“With the current rental fee structure we predict another deficit this season and a large registration fee increase per player next season. This will likely make minor hockey unaffordable to many families in North Dundas Township,” wrote Forrester in the missive.

In the end, council opted to shift some little-used time slots — before 7 to 8 a.m. on weekends and 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays — into the lower-priced “non-prime-time” category, potentially dropping the Association’s per-hour costs from $119 to $85 if shifting practices to those times.

Councillor Tony Fraser wasn’t convinced that was good enough, noting the affected ice times were free of charge only a few years ago.  Fraser defended the notion of imposing a special lower rate of perhaps $50 per hour for the Association at those hours. The councillor argued the $85 non-prime-time price isn’t necessarily a bargain if that same hour has no takers at the $119 prime-time price.  “At the $119 rate, we weren’t recouping anything, or very much, and the $85 is quite an increase from the zero dollars that they paid only a few years ago. Zero to $85 was an increase that was felt.”

Councillor Al Armstrong observed that non-prime-time ice usage fell by about half once the township started charging for it.

Mayor Eric Duncan pointed out that recent increases in ice rental charges were driven by the township’s need to recoup arena operating costs, especially hydro costs that “have gone insane.”

“I just think the $85 is reasonable,” the mayor said, arguing in favour of working within the current two-price structure.

But the math behind that figure, though well intentioned, was “flawed,” claimed Armstrong. “We attached a number to something that never had a number attached to it… It’s like we have a commodity that nobody wants,” the councillor said, asking if a $5,000-a-night hotel room is really worth that amount if allowed to sit unrented.

Armstrong wondered aloud if township taxpayers might be willing to pay a little more than the current household average of $12 per month for recreation, to ensure hockey’s affordability.

Chief Administrative Officer Angela Rutley advised council that the Association needed to know about rate changes “sooner rather than later” as the organization gets into drawing up this year’s hockey schedule very soon.

“We set our fees for the next year in February,” Forrester, who was in the audience that evening, told council. “So if we could sit down and work with you. We’re just asking for one year to help us get it,” said Forrester, adding local hockey families face the prospect of an additional $125 per-player hike for 2017-18. He didn’t relish the thought. “Like Sarah Palin said, ‘What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? A hockey mom wears lipstick,” he quipped.

Forrester also suggested the Association “would book the whole year” if council agreed to cut the prime-time rate to $100. “And that’s closer to what South Dundas charges.”

But Duncan noted that North Dundas has two arenas and thus higher costs than the neighbouring municipality to the south.

Update: The lead paragraph was edited to remove a reference to figure skaters.

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