Saint John's rink user fee could hurt enrollment, economic spinoffs: HNB

Saint John council's decision Monday night to introduce a fee for non-residents to use the city's arenas was met with 'disappointment" from Hockey New Brunswick.

City councillors voted to implement the $200 recreation card program for the upcoming hockey season after nine municipalities refused to commit to a regional funding model for the local arenas.

Chris Green, who represents the greater Saint John region on Hockey New Brunswick's board of directors, is "extremely disappointed" with the move and said this kind of system "doesn't work."

It will raise the barrier of entry into the sport for families, prevent non-residents from playing in Saint John and cost the city valuable sports tourism dollars, he said.

Green said registration fees can cost between $300 to $3,000 per child, depending on the age and level. Adding another $200 on top could push some families to reconsider, he said.

Nearly a third of player fees for Saint John Youth Minor Hockey — which is mainly made up of city residents — are already subsidized through youth charities.

He said the new fee will likely hurt enrollment at the youngest levels.

"And if they don't come in [then], they never come in," Green told Information Morning Saint John.

The fee is set to increase to $350 for the 2020-2021 season.

Green said that figure isn't likely to hold pat from there. In Fredericton, he said, a $340 non-resident user fee was instituted in 2006 and today it's more than $800.

'We're left with no other options'

Everyone must get a recreation card regardless of residency, though only non-residents will pay.

According to city staff, user fees will recoup roughly 52 per cent of the cost to operate the city's four aging municipal rinks, which require upgrades or replacement.

A staff report said it costs the city $380,000 per year to maintain the rinks for the 1,100 non-residents who use them on a regular basis.

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"My disappointment lies with the regional municipalities for not being willing to stand up for their taxpayers and make sure they're not getting hit with this," Coun. David Hickey said Monday night.

"We're left with no other options."

Saint John, Rothesay, Quispamsis and Grand Bay-Westfield, St. Martins and several local service districts could not agree on a regional funding model for local arenas before a May 1 deadline.

Lost revenue

Green said the new fee could put competitive programs in the area at risk.

"If we start drawing geographical lines throughout our minor hockey associations, we are essentially left with a recreational hockey program," he said.

A decline in competitive programs is an important factor, Green said, using the example of the Lancaster Minor Hockey Association, which covers west Saint John and Grand Bay-Westfield. Without non-city residents, the association wouldn't have the player pool to ice a competitive team.

"If we don't have a peewee A team, then we don't have a peewee A tournament," he said, noting last season the region hosted 15 tournaments that brought in 451 teams.

"That's a lot of hotel rooms and that's a lot of restaurant meals."