Hockey players from outlying communities will have to buy $200-a-season recreation cards starting later this month to skate on Saint John rinks.
The City of Saint John will make the cards available Sept. 23 and all regular rink users — those who belong to associations, teams or leagues that rent city ice — will need them, said Tim O'Reilly, deputy commissioner of parks and public places.
If you're a Saint John resident, you must bring proof of residency when you get a card. The cards need to be renewed each year.
The user fee was adopted earlier this year after it was learned one-third of rink users were from outside the city.
The fee could apply to 200 to 250 non-resident hockey players belonging to groups using the Stewart Hurley, Charles Gorman, Hilton Belyea, and Peter Murray arenas and the Lord Beaverbrook Rink.
Councillors voted to implement the fee in May, when Quispamsis, Grand Bay-Westfield and other nearby communities refused to commit to a regional funding model for local arenas.
"At the end of the day, all we're interested in as a municipality is fairness and sustainability for our rinks," O'Reilly said.
There are some exemptions to the requirement for recreation cards. Those who rent ice for less than 15 hours per season do not have to get cards. Nor do participants in city-sponsored public skates, visiting teams, coaches, elite leagues and hockey schools and support staff involved in skating programs.
Cards will be available from Monday, Sept. 23, to Sunday, Oct. 6, at the following locations:
- The payment centre at City Hall, Level M, at 15 Market Square
- The Parks and Recreation Department at 171 Adelaide St.
- The Municipal Services Building at 175 Rothesay Ave.
The deadline to obtain a card is the end of November.
All the money collected from the user fees will go toward the cost of operating the rinks. It costs the city $380,000 a year to maintain its rinks, according to a report from city staff.
City staff will be performing spot checks at the rinks to ensure that people using a rink have a recreation card. The league will be fined $300 per member without a card.
There will be a two-month grace period between the end of November to the end of January for stragglers who haven't paid the fee, O'Reilly said.
The city was concerned the fee might discourage people from participating in ice sports, but O'Reilly said this hasn't happened.
"We're actually seeing no drop in the amount of booking of our arenas compared to previous seasons, so that's great news," he said.
Hockey NB prepared for change
Chris Green, a member of the board of Hockey New Brunswick, said hockey registration closes next week, but so far enrolment numbers are normal.
Still, Green said, it's not fair for ice sports to bear the burden of the city's deficit. He would like to come up with a collaborative agreement with the city to fix the system for next season.
He said the league has spent the summer preparing for the change.
"We've worked really hard over the summer to ensure that residency was not a barrier for youth to participate in organized sport," Green said.
"Where a child lives shouldn't dictate what kind of programming they receive."
Hockey New Brunswick now requires parents to check off a consent form for releasing their data to the City of Saint John. The governing body also redesigned the way it slots players into arenas.
Under the old system, entry-level players — between ages five to eight — were slotted into a rink alphabetically and placed wherever ice was available.
"Instead of having all of our entry level kids together at a rink, we're going to separate them so non-city residents essentially are going to use a non-city arena for that programming," Green said.