Planned rate hikes that would see Woolwich Minor Hockey hit with an 11 per cent increase next year were quashed by councillors, who sent staff off to find a sharper pencil.
While agreeing to a host of user fee increases – some of them huge – for a host of township services, councillors meeting Tuesday night opted to defer a decision on arena rental fees.
The rates themselves are slated for an increase averaging 5.2 per cent under proposal tabled by recreation department staff. Primetime ice would jump to $201.76 an hour from $191.85 at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena, and to $196.46 from $186.85 at the Jim McLeod and Woolwich Township arenas. A uniform $110.62 would be applied to all non-prime ice times at the three arenas, up from $109.81 at the Snyder rink and $104.81 at the others.
Combined with a shift in the primetime ice schedule – starting at 5 p.m. each weeknight rather than 6 – the increases would mean thousands of extra dollars in costs for the largest user of ice time.
Noting that the bottom-line impact on the association would mean paying 11 per cent more next year over current expenses, Mayor Todd Cowan dismissed as semantics the distinction between a fee hike and primetime ice changes, calling it a “shell game.”
“I have a few difficulties with this. It could limit the number of kids who could play because it’s getting too expensive,” he said of the staff proposal, part of a broader slate of changes to fees and charges. “I think that’s asking way too much.”
Acknowledging the overall impact, director of recreation and facilities Karen Makela said the changes were in line with arena fees in neighbouring municipalities. The proposed hourly rate would put Woolwich in the middle of the pack, while some other municipalities start their primetime rates as early as 4 p.m. each day.
Woolwich currently recovers about 54 per cent of the cost of operating arenas through fees paid by users, slightly lower than the average of 60 per cent. In order to recover all of its costs, the township would have to charge $252 an hour for ice time.
For Cowan, however, the goal is to reduce the township’s costs – “we can find some efficiencies” – rather than simply relying on fee increases to close the gap.
“We have to find some better solutions for our best customer,” he said of the minor hockey issue.
Having sent staff back to the drawing board on that issue, councillors did approve a host increased fees and charges for everything from an Official Plan amendment ($4,500 from $4,299) to dog tags ($25 from $20). Increases range from inflationary to more than 100 per cent in some cases. A gravel pit application, for instance, jumps to $16,700 from $8,348. Other increases in the planning department include a doubling of many of the committee of adjustment rates, such as applications for severance jumping to $1,100 from $537 and a minor variance application going to $900 from $485.
All of the fee hikes, including those well above inflation on the recreation side, reflect the township’s rising costs to provide the services, said director of finance Richard Petherick.
Chief administrative officer David Brenneman noted the increases seen in recent years reflect a shift towards a user-pay philosophy as the township tries to recover more of the costs associated with offering services.