There’s a certain element of “we warned you” in the debate over another round of increases in recreational fees, including ice rentals in Woolwich arenas.
When user groups pushed for the township to move up the timeline for replacing the old arena and pool in Elmira, councillors stressed the fact that would mean higher user fees. And that’s just what happened beginning in 2005.
That first year, ice rental rates went up more than eight per cent, with council opting to hold that level for several more years. At the time, groups such Woolwich Minor Hockey and the Elmira Figure Skating Club expressed concerns about the impact on membership fees, fearing higher prices would deter parents from enrolling their children in sports organizations.
It was déjà vu all over again this week at Woolwich council as some of those same groups lamented the latest round of fee hikes. Most troubling was the plan to introduce a tiered rate structure, with the township charging considerably more for ice time at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena versus the rate charged at the Jim McLeod ice pad and the St. Jacobs arena.
To their credit, the residents who addressed councillors Tuesday night seemed resigned to the 3.5-per-cent jump in rates for ice time – despite being well above inflation, the increases proposed for next season are lower than has been in the norm in recent years. But with the Snyder arena, the increase works out to 13.6 per cent, much tougher to take in stride. Coming on top of a wave of increases that has seen rates rise by more than 50 per cent in the past half-decade, that extra jump is hard to take.
As some have noted, if the tiered pricing stays in place, there will be some users who’ll request ice time in the other arenas simply to avoid the extra cost. That could have an impact on revenues. However, because the arenas at the Woolwich Memorial Centre have proven to be so popular – justifying the public demand for twin pads – moving every minor sport team to other venues may prove difficult. Clearly, those organizations are going to see some extra costs if council stays the course on this issue.
The Elmira Sugar Kings, who call the Dan Snyder arena home, will bear the full cost if the tiered pricing goes into effect next fall.
Perturbed at the prospect of paying more, users are grumbling about paying a premium price for a facility that seems to have some deficiencies. The Snyder arena has been plagued with bad ice since its opening. The township and the builder are working on resolving the problem, but without luck so far. As well, the massive cost increases, largely due to staffing levels, have not gone unnoticed. Revenues are up, they note, but expenses more so – it seems obvious there’s room for the township to cut costs significantly before turning to the community for yet more money.
Adding to the price squeeze is the impending arrival of the harmonized sales tax, which will essentially increase prices by another eight per cent, the effect of applying the provincial levy to a host of previously untaxed services.
Given the financial implications, it will be interesting to see how Woolwich handles upcoming discussions about subsidies to minor sports and other rec. groups.