New Brunswick

Saint John councillors vote to charge $200 rink user fee for non-residents

Hockey players from out of town will soon have to pay to use arenas in Saint John, following a motion that was approved by city council on Monday night.

Decision comes after municipalities and LSDs couldn't agree on a cost-sharing model to use city rinks

Out of town hockey players will soon have to pay to use the city of Saint John's arenas after council voted to implement a $200 non-resident user fee for the 2019-2020 hockey season. (PhotoStock10/Shutterstock)

Hockey players from out of town will soon have to pay to use arenas in Saint John, following a motion that was approved by city council on Monday night.

Councillors voted to implement a $200 non-resident user fee for the 2019-2020 hockey season after nine municipalities refused to commit to a regional funding model for the local arenas before the May 1 deadline.

Those municipalities include the towns of Rothesay, Quispamsis and Grand Bay-Westfield, the Village of St. Martins and several local service districts.

The fee will also increase to $350 for the 2020-2021 season.

"My disappointment lies with the regional municipalities for not being willing to stand up for their taxpayers and make sure they're not getting hit with this," said Coun. David Hickey. 

"We're left with no other options."

Hockey players across the region attended Monday's council meeting to voice their concerns. (Jericho Knopp)

The city's four municipal rinks are older and in need of upgrades or replacement at a time when the municipality has been under tremendous financial pressure from rising costs and lack of growth.

A special three-year, $22.8 million provincial rescue package expires at the end of next year raising concerns the municipality will have to make drastic cuts to services.

According to a report prepared by city staff, it costs the city $380,000 per year to maintain the rinks for the 1,100 non-residents who use them on a regular basis.

The $200 fee wouldn't cover the entire deficit, but would recoup roughly 52 per cent of operating costs. 

The better of 2 options

One potential model for user fees would've seen everyone pay up front with city residents later reimbursed.  

But the preferred system, which councillors voted for, is the recreation card system, where everyone will get a recreation card regardless of residency. 

Saint John residents will get their cards for free, while non-residents will have to pay the fee. 

Saint John Deputy Commissioner Tim O'Reilly tells city councillors there's been little progress for neighbouring municipalities to share arena operating costs. (CBC)

But neither option is likely to satisfy everyone, and there are concerns that a fee-based approach will lead to non-resident youth dropping out of sports instead.

"The rising cost of everything is a concern to me," said Coun. Greg Norton. "I want to be in a position where we're not subsidizing billionaires, and not passing on the cost to youth hockey. And I don't see this moving us in that direction."

Cost concerns

Only three councillors voted against the motion, including Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary, and Councillors Blake Armstrong and John MacKenzie.

Armstrong and MacKenzie are both concerned the loss of non-resident users, and that the $70,000 fee to get the recreation card program up and running, will mean the city loses money. 

"I totally absolutely agree that we need help from outlying areas to pay our bills, absolutely. I mean, they're on our roads, using our water systems, everything," said MacKenzie. 

" … I don't want to turn around and say we're going to do this, and then it end up that we lose a lot of revenue that we're gaining right now because we outpriced ourselves."

McAlary also hopes that given more time, municipalities will agree to the original plan. In the meantime, the city will start printing recreation cards.

With files from Connell Smith

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