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Saint John sports organizations brace for funding cuts

Click to play video: 'Saint John’s sport organizations say city’s new cost-saving measures could have disastrous effects' Saint John’s sport organizations say city’s new cost-saving measures could have disastrous effects
WATCH: Sports organizations in Saint John say they will feel the pinch of two new cost-saving measures proposed by the city. Tim Roszell explains. – Jan 22, 2020

Sports organizations in Saint John say they will feel the pinch of two new cost-saving measures proposed by the city.

They come as Saint John council tries to offset operating costs amid a projected $11-million budget deficit. The items were outlined at a public meeting last week.

Among them, a recreation user card for non-Saint John residents, much like the one youth hockey players faced last year, but this time covering all sports using city facilities.

READ MORE: Saint John explores selling, leasing TD Station operations ahead of looming budget deficit

Chris Green, a director with Hockey New Brunswick, said about 125 fewer players registered in Saint John this year compared to the 2018-19 season.

He says he’s not sure if the user card program, which was scrapped for the season after the Saint John Hotel Association agreed to cover the costs, caused the decline.

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“It was reported to us in the meeting that only 50 per cent of the city population went and obtained a card,” Green said.

“To me, that says there was no appetite among city residents to actually implement this program, so I think we need to find a different solution.”

A spike in rental fees for fields and facilities is also on the horizon.

Click to play video: 'Saint John Council continues to grapple with budget shortfall' Saint John Council continues to grapple with budget shortfall
Saint John Council continues to grapple with budget shortfall – Jan 14, 2020

Kevin Ferguson is the president of Saint John Alpines Baseball Program, which includes senior and junior men’s teams. He also manages the senior club.

He said field rental costs for the two teams will jump from about $6,000 last year to $16,000-$20,000 in 2021. He said the senior team will fold if that happens, and he believes the rental fee hikes are already in place.

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“It seems like the city, right now, wants to divest itself out of as much recreation as possible,” Ferguson said.

“In the short term, that may seem great to them. They may feel they have the mandate to do that. But in the long term, it’s going to have [a] negative effect on our city.”

READ MORE: Saint John council makes 1st comments on 2020 ‘transitional’ budget

City staff declined to comment on the proposals until they’re debated in an open session of Common Council.

On Tuesday, Mayor Don Darling told Global News implementing that type of system won’t make the city sustainable.

He said it’s the lack of a cost-sharing agreement between Saint John and outlying communities that makes these proposals necessary.

“We have this regional collaboration committee that’s working on sharing services and bringing a formula of equitable cost sharing to the greater region,” Darling said.

“I hope that we’re successful there by the end of March.”

Both Green and Ferguson say their organizations have submitted letters to the city asking them to reconsider the changes.

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