'There's going to be an impact': Province suspends community rink grant program

Communities say the suspension of the province's Community Rink Affordability Grant adds yet another challenge for struggling arenas to make ends meet.

Saskatchewan government's Community Rink Affordability Grant halted due to budget cuts

The Saskatchewan government has suspended its Community Rink Affordability Grant, which awarded $2,500 to help with operations and upkeep on 633 ice surfaces last year. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

The Saskatchewan government has suspended a grant program meant to help community rinks' bottom lines.

The Community Rink Affordability Grant was awarded to 633 ice surfaces in 373 communities last year. It allows indoor curling and hockey rinks to receive $2,500 per indoor ice surface annually to assist with operating costs and upgrades.

The provincial government suspended the grant in November, two months after calling for 2016 applications.

'Difficult decision' for ministry

In a press release dated Sept. 22, Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Ken Cheveldayoff said the government "believes in supporting community ice surfaces across Saskatchewan" and was "proud to offer the Community Rink Affordability Grant for a fifth year."

The government is no longer following through with that milestone year. 

The ministry's executive director Darin Banadyga said suspending the grant was "one of the difficult decisions" the government had to make in light of the province's fiscal situation.

Last month, the province announced it is projecting a $1-billion deficit.

Banadyga said the grant was "well-subscribed" by hundreds of community rinks.

'Going to be an impact'

The Tartan Curling Club in Regina is one rink that benefitted from the grant.

Its general manager, Wes Czarnecki, said his club counted on putting the money toward the general operation costs that come with keeping ice in six months every year. He said many other ice facilities around the city and the province are older, and require a lot of general upkeep and repairs. 

Wes Czarnecki, the general manager at the Tartan Curling Club in Regina, says the grant's suspension is yet another challenge for facilities that are already having difficulty making ends meet. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

The club is used to getting the grant money and factors it into its budgeting and planning process, he said.

"It's a little bit difficult when you're expecting or almost relying on that to come through, and the government makes a change like that," Czarnecki said. "The clubs have just gotten used to getting that money so when you have something like that pulled out from under you, yeah, there's going to be an impact."

The Tartan and Highland Curling Clubs in Regina have been vocal in the past about their difficulty staying in the black. The two clubs received a tax exemption from the city and help with business plans for the next two years amid deficits stemming from declining numbers and aging facilities. 

Czarnecki said the Tartan will use its current business strategy —  finding new ways to get people into the rink — to try to make up for the lost grant money.

Kinistino rinks will need more fundraising

In the Town of Kinistino, 65 kilometres southeast of Prince Albert, the grant helped chip away at the community rinks' biggest annual costs: power and heat.

"Any kind of money we can get from elsewhere is very advantageous to operating recreational facilities in small towns," Mayor Leonard Margolis told CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition. "We'll have to increase our levees that we charge various groups to use the facility, increase our rental, and fundraise more."

Margolis added, however, those plans could backfire if higher ice rental and user fees lead to fewer people using the rinks.

He said there's no doubt the town will keep both rinks open, but they'll have to get creative about finding new ways to raise money. 

Margolis said communities are having a tough enough time with other cutbacks as the province faces a significant financial shortfall, and some local farmers still have crops in the field. 

Between fundraisers or the town kicking in extra money to keep recreation facilities going, he said the extra costs of losing the grant still winds up coming out of the users' pockets. 


Tory Gillis


Tory Gillis began work as a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan in 2012. You can hear her deliver the afternoon news on weekdays on CBC Radio One in Saskatchewan. She has also worked as a reporter, and as an associate producer on CBC Saskatchewan's radio shows, The Morning Edition, Bluesky and The Afternoon Edition.

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition