Local politicians in Abbotsford, B.C., are under fire from residents who say it's wrong for millions of taxpayer dollars to be spent on a local hockey team while some city programs remain underfunded.
Abbotsford city council has approved a deal with the Abbotsford Heat hockey team that will guarantee the club as much as $5.7 million in annual expenses.
"That's a private business and the private business should live or die based on its ability to sell that product to the community," said Vince Dimanno, chair of the Abbotsford Ratepayers Association.
'Basically we've been backed into a corner' —Abbotsford resident Lillly Kaetler
"Taxpayers should have absolutely nothing to do with that."
The Heat is a farm team for the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames and although the team is in second place in its division in the American Hockey League, it's not drawing the fan support its ownership had hoped for.
So the city has agreed to pick up the shortfall in the team's revenue, up to $5.7 million a year.
"It's a contract where we're agreeing to purchase from them 'X' number of games in our facility," said Abbotsford Mayor George Peary.
The city owns the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, which it built for $82 million in 2009 and where the Heat plays its home games.
Critics say road repairs overdue
Critics say the money should be spent on making overdue repairs to roads, hiring more police officers and on a $70,000 upgrade to a local pool that could otherwise be shut down.
"When the NHL was in trouble because of the Canadian dollar, the federal government said, 'Hey it's our game. Shouldn't taxpayers subsidize Canadian teams?' Taxpayers said no," said Dimanno.
Residents say the deal cut by city council leaves local ratepayers on the hook.
"If we don't have the team then we have no chance of getting any revenue and profits and it'll make the situation worse," said resident Lilly Kaetler. "Basically we've been backed into a corner."
Peary said it's simply a case of the team needing the city and the city needing the team. He said he was willing to fight the 2011 municipal election on the issue.