The mayor of Saint John believes Hockey New Brunswick is “putting up road blocks” over user fees at local hockey arenas.
Don Darling’s comments come after the organization encouraged members to withhold residency details when registering their children for hockey this year.
The City of Saint John is imposing a $200 user fee on players from outside the city who come to Saint John to play hockey. In approving the plan in the spring, Saint John Common Council said it would help recover some of the roughly $380,000 in costs to operate and maintain the facilities each year.
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Green estimates the fees will affect between 300 and 500 youth players.
Norman Lefrancois’ family is one of those impacted. The St. Martins resident says all three of his sons played in the Saint John minor hockey system, including an 11-year-old still playing. He also has grandchildren about to enter the system. A non-resident user fee for hockey players using Saint John facilities will put added strain on his family.
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“Where we already register with Saint John Youth (hockey), the $200 is just going to add another expense to what we already have to pay to travel into Saint John to take our kids to hockey,” he said.
Cooperation on a regional ice strategy has been a hot topic of discussion at the Regional Services Commission, a meeting of the mayors of Saint John, surrounding communities and local service districts, but they have not been able to reach an agreement.
A regional ice strategy is also expected to discussed by a new Regional Management Task Force, which was mentioned as part of sustainability strategy for Saint John, unveiled last week by the provincial government.
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Green said registration has already begun within some associations. He said stakeholders should have a real sense of urgency to come together on an agreement and cancel the user fees.
But Darling said he’s “disappointed” by Hockey New Brunswick’s direction.
“We worked away for seventeen months trying to find a regional cost-sharing model for hockey arenas,” Darling said.
“I think the City of Saint John has been painted by many, including Hockey New Brunswick, as the bad guy here. That’s simply not the case. It’s not factual,” he added.
Darling said, without an agreement or an adequate return from user fees, the city may have to look at other plans offset their costs.
“We had a plan to charge everybody a higher rate, and have people come back in and prove they are residents, and get a discount or get a cheque cut back to them,” Darling said. “We may have to lean on that now, and I suspect Hockey New Brunswick is going to hear from a lot of families who don’t want to have to pay more, and then go through a process of rebating.”
Lefrancois said he may need to take his money to another community not affected by user fees, if a solution is not found.
“If we can’t find the money, then I guess I’m going to have to tell my kids, my young fella, that he can’t play hockey,” Lefrancois said. “Plain and simple.”