New Brunswick

Field rental fee hikes could threaten future of sports teams

The city of Saint John is eyeing rental fee hikes for a number of its sports fields, a move that has some local teams concerned.

Sports leagues worry fee hikes for recreational fields will be too much for most teams

Field rental fees are set to increase dramatically over the next three years, as the city looks for ways to deal with its financial woes. (City of Saint John)

The city of Saint John is eyeing rental fee hikes for a number of its sports fields, a move that has some local teams concerned.

City staff have proposed a three-year plan that would recover operational costs from its fields, tennis courts and arenas from users, as a means to help address a looming structural deficit.

Staff say the changes could also mean a $19,000 increase in revenue for the city. 

The city backtracked its original plan Monday night after hearing concerns from teams like the Saint John Alpines. 

Instead of recovering 90 per cent of operating costs from fees this year—which would've seen fees almost double—the city will only recover 40 per cent of costs, and will look at increasing that to 70 per cent and then 90 per cent in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Kevin Ferguson, head coach of the Saint John Alpines, says this change came as a surprise to him, but it's still welcome news. 

"I was very surprised when they came in with the rate...because we were anticipating that they were going to be a little bit higher," he said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

"For 2020, the rates seem to be very fair, and we are moving forward."

How much are rates going up?

Since the change to only recoup 40 per cent of costs through the rate hike, increases for 2020 are modest. 

According to city staff report,  Shamrock Field in the north end will go from $64.57 to $66 per hour this year, the most expensive rental on the list. 

Youth groups using the Shamrock Field tennis courts will also have to pay up to $8 to rent what used to be free.

Memorial Field will see an increase from $36.73 to $39.00 an hour.

Saint John baseball leagues may have to dig deeper into their budgets to pay for rental fees if the city follows through on proposed fee increases. (St. Malachy's/Twitter)

Meanwhile, rental fees for tournaments will be decreasing as much as $20, as long as 20 per cent of the participants are coming from outside of Saint John.

Adjusting to change

For teams worried about the financial burden, city staff say there are a number of options that could help, including seeking sponsorships, or increasing membership fees.

Ferguson is hoping to work with the city to help ensure teams can survive future increases.

He says the city plans on hosting meetings with various sports teams to see what that collaboration could look like.

Ferguson says partnering with the city on field maintenance could be a good option for both groups.

Another sports league in Saint John expects they'll just have to adjust to the change.

Nathan Wiggins, president of the Saint John Ultimate Frisbee League said, while the fee changes won't threaten the existence of the league, he does expect membership fees to go up. 

"There may be some that may be deterred away, but in terms of a large loss, I don't foresee that happening," he said.

"People aren't going to be happy about it, but unfortunately that's the way the economy works." 

Cuts have to happen

City Councillor Blake Armstrong says, with a $10 million deficit to tackle, nothing is off the table. 

"I don't like to raise fees… and i don't think the public should have to pay for everything, but we're in a situation where we need the money, and of course the only place to get it is in fees, taxes," he said.

Armstrong says he understands the impact fee increases have on the city's sports teams, who are largely non-profits, but adds that things can always change.

West side councillor Blake Armstrong says the city is looking everywhere for cuts, but hopes staff can find a way to collaborate with sports teams. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"We're taking one step this year," he said. "Hopefully next year we get better fiscally, and maybe that increase (for 2021) won't be as much." 

Armstrong also says he "wouldn't mind" seeing the city find a way to privatize its fields, alleviating the financial burden.

Information Morning Saint John

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