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Losses would outweigh gains from user fee: Hockey New Brunswick

Click to play video: 'New user fees for Saint ice rinks set to go into effect this fall'
New user fees for Saint ice rinks set to go into effect this fall
Saint John will impose user fees this Fall. As Tim Roszell reports, this will see out-of-town hockey players be charged extra money to play in the city's rink – Jun 18, 2019

A new user fee set to go into effect in Saint John will see some young hockey players charged extra money to play in the city’s rinks.

The non-resident user fee, approved by Saint John Common Council on Monday, means players from Rothesay, Quispamsis, Grand Bay-Westfield and various local service districts will have to pay $200 to play in Saint John arenas.

The goal is to offset some of the cost of operating rinks in Saint John, said to be $380,000, when about 1,100 non-residents use them each year.

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Hockey New Brunswick’s Chris Green believes this fee misses the net. He requested to address council and offer suggestions of how to save money and avoid the fee, but the request was denied.

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Green said youth “cannot be expected to shoulder the financial burdens of communities.”

“Youth hockey is the pivotal ingredient of the moral fabric that defines us as Canadians,” he said. “And we need to engage that and make hockey more accessible for youth and not more inaccessible.”

Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary voted against the fee. She said a little more co-operation among all parties involved would have led to a deal.

“It’s not something you’re going to put together in one meeting,” she began. “But if we met on it and talked about it and tried to get your issues that you’re separated on together, it might have worked.”

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Councillor David Merrithew voted for the fee, believing all the talk led to nothing, forcing the city to act.

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Families in outlying communities seeking answers about the fee should address their own local leadership, he said.

“Tell the story to your council,” he stated. “Those are the folks that would not … come into this agreement, just on a fair and equitable basis. So, go talk to them. Don’t talk to me.”

Jenn Palmer, a mother from Grand Bay-Westfield, agrees with contributing to the Saint John area rinks, but says attaching a phased non-resident user fee that could potentially see rural area families paying upwards of $700 by 2021 is excessive.

“We want to encourage our kids to be active and inclusive members of our communities, but this will send a clear message if divison,” she said.

“Council talked about an 87 per cent usage rate in the (Saint John) rinks, so clearly the rinks are not being used to full capacity. How about a sustainability study on the rinks and focus on capturing revenue by closing those in disrepair and charging a more feasible user fee?”

Green believes the losses in enrollment could be significant, creating enough lost revenue that it would outweigh any expected gains from the user fee.

He said one hockey association under the HNB umbrella hosted three tournaments last year, drawing 147 teams from outside Saint John. Losing one of those tournaments, including hotels booked and meals purchased, would mean thousands of dollars not coming to this community, he said.

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Merrithew and McAlary did agree the user fee issue only underlines a lack of cooperation between Saint John and surrounding communities when it comes to regionalization. They say if they can’t agree on an ice strategy, it will be that much more difficult to agree on other regional issues going forward.

 

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