Nearly a year after the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association discovered financial irregularities in its accounts, parents in an already expensive and time-consuming sport are being asked to do extra fundraising to help cover a nearly $80,000 shortfall.
In March 2019, the association discovered that monthly payments for ice time — between $20,000 and $25,000 a month — at the Civic Centre had not been made to the City of Corner Brook.
The city has agreed to let the association pay off the debt over two years — an interest-free loan over two years — and parents are now being asked to help.
"It is necessary for our association to raise an additional $40,000 this year to meet that annual commitment," said a letter to parents from the executive of the CBMHA. A copy of the letter, in which the association says it started the current season in "an extremely difficult financial situation," has been obtained by the CBC.
To come up with the money, the association has launched an extra fundraiser: a 50/50 ticket draw.
When the irregularities were discovered last year, the association filed a complaint with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.
On Tuesday afternoon, the RNC said a 46-year-old woman has been charged in connection with its investigation into financial irregularities within the association.
The accused, who police say is a former employee of the association, has been charged with six offences: theft and fraud over $5,000; false pretenses; unauthorized use of a credit card; and two counts of uttering a forged document.
She is scheduled to appear in provincial court on Feb. 18, and police are asking anyone with information about the situation to contact them.
CBC spoke with more than half a dozen parents who did not wish to be quoted or identified. Many of them have concerns about now being asked to raise money to make up for the unexplained irregularities.
Some were caught off guard by the launch of an extra fundraiser mid-year, at a time when many teams are trying to raise money for out-of-town travel or to cover the costs of hosting tournaments.
An extremely difficult financial situation. - letter to parents from Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association executive
Parents say having a child in hockey is expensive and time-consuming enough already without having to come up with more money and time to purchase or sell more tickets.
Hockey families are each being asked to sell 10 tickets per week, at $2 apiece, for a 10-week period.
One parent said they'd paid for last year's ice fees through last year's registration and feel it's unfair to have to help cover the same expenses a second time.
Another parent said they feel stressed and spread so thin that the thought of another fundraiser is disheartening.
Price has to be paid
While some parents disagree with selling extra tickets, other parents said the association has no choice but to do more fundraising. They say CBMHA kept their word by not increasing the cost of minor hockey registration, but the money for the shortfall has to come from somewhere.
"We can bicker and fight and have the doors close, or we can work together to get things back on track, and allow our kids to enjoy the sport they love," wrote one parent, who did not want to be identified, in a message to CBC.
The association's executive declined a request to be interviewed, but CBMHA vice-president Matt Rogers, in an email to CBC, disputed the suggestion the extra fundraiser is being held just to pay back money owed to the city; he said it's intended to keep the association as cost-efficient as possible for all parents.
"We have nothing out of the ordinary happening at minor hockey," wrote Rogers.
"Honestly it is business as usual!!"
Roger's comments came prior to the former employee being charged.
Change in procedure
The financial irregularities have already resulted in more caution and oversight in how money is administered, both on the side of the CBMHA as well as from the city's perspective.
A minor hockey parent told CBC that this was the first year that the CBMHA required parents to pay registration fees online or by cheque, instead of using cash.
Minor hockey is very important to Corner Brook. - Mayor Jim Parsons
And, instead of requiring bills to be paid within 30 days, Mayor Jim Parsons said the City of Corner Brook now requires user groups at the Civic Centre to pay within a two-week period of an invoice being issued.
As for parents who want to know if the association is still trying to get back any of the money that should have been paid to the city last year, CBMHA is promising more details in that regard when it provides "a full financial recap" during an annual general meeting Feb. 19.
The game goes on
Parsons said it's not up to the city to say how the CBMHA should come up with the money owed, adding he's made a point of not meddling in the association's affairs.
But he said the city wanted to see minor hockey carry on, so it allowed some leniency.
"I think it was a middle ground. We didn't want to cripple the organization. Minor hockey is very important to Corner Brook," said Parsons.
"So this was a way that we can ensure that we're dealing with our taxpayer dollars in a fair and responsible way while at the same time affording the organization a way to pay back their debt."
CBMHA has been making monthly payments on the debt since early fall, said Parsons.