New Brunswick

Saint John promises spot checks to ensure hockey players have mandatory cards

Fewer than half the hockey players who normally come in from communities around Saint John to use city rinks have bought the compulsory new $200-a-season recreation cards.

City adopted user fee for rinks after neighouring communities refused to share costs

Hockey players from the suburbs have to pay to use Saint John arenas after council voted to implement a $200 non-resident user fee for the 2019-2020 hockey season. (CBC)

Fewer than half the hockey players who normally come in from communities around Saint John to use city rinks have bought the compulsory new $200-a-season recreation cards. 

Councillors voted to implement the fee last spring, when Quispamsis, Grand Bay-Westfield and other nearby communities refused to commit to a regional funding model for local arenas. 

Cards are now required for most hockey players from the area, but only those who live outside the city have to pay for them.

Since the cards became available at the end of September, 130 non-residents and 900 residents have obtained them. That's about 25 per cent of non-residents who use the rinks and 50 per cent of residents.

"We have to make sure that people are compliant with the program because at the end of the day, it's not fair that our city residents are continuing to offset the cost of non-resident use of our arenas," Tim O'Reilly, the deputy commissioner of parks and recreation, said Wednesday.  

Leagues face fines

Although there is a grace period, city staff will start performing spot checks at the rinks starting Dec. 9 to ensure that people have cards. A league can be fined $300 for every member without one.

Players who show up without their cards will be able to come into the arena, but they won't be able to play hockey.  

"We definitely want people to comply and get the card," O'Reilly said.

The user fee was adopted earlier this year after it was learned about one-third of rink users were from outside the city.

The fee could apply to 200 to 250 non-resident hockey players belonging to groups using the Stewart Hurley, Charles Gorman, Hilton Belyea, and Peter Murray arenas and the Lord Beaverbrook Rink.

City's goal is cost-sharing

"The City of Saint John's primary focus is trying to get a regional agreement in place to share the cost of these [arenas]," said O'Reilly.

"But unfortunately, we haven't and we have to go down this road of a Saint John-only solution to obtain those non-resident fees for that non-resident use."

All the money collected from the user fees will go toward the cost of operating the rinks.

There has been little progress getting neighbouring municipalities to share arena operating costs, says Tim O'Reilly, deputy commissioner of parks and recreation. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

It costs the city $380,000 a year to maintain its rinks, according to a report from city staff.  

O'Reilly said he expects gross revenue to be around $100,000 based on 500 non-residents who purchase the cards.

He said city staff also plan to meet early next year to better understand how the new program is going. Then they will decide how to proceed in future years.  

There are some exemptions to the requirement for recreation cards.

Those who rent ice for under 15 hours a season do not have to get cards. Nor do participants in city-sponsored public skates, visiting teams, coaches, elite leagues and hockey schools, or support staff involved in skating programs.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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