Ice rental fee debate sparks accessibility concerns

HRM council debates on standardizing all ice rink rental fees

Whether some rinks are newer or more equipped then others, they soon all might cost the same to rent.
Whether some rinks are newer or more equipped then others, they soon all might cost the same to rent.   Avi Jacob

Regional council voted on a motion Tuesday to review ice rink rental fees throughout the HRM.

The motion said that municipal staff would make recommendations to adjust or standardize the rental fees for arenas owned by the municipality or privately.

While the motion passed, there was a heated discussion as several councillors expressed their concerns about the possibility of a flat fee for all rink facilities.

Coun. Steve Craig (Lower Sackville) brought up the community access plan, which dictates that the operation of facilities in the HRM must be done in a way that fosters community relationships, accessibility and equality.

“If we are going to affect fees, we also have to look at the accessibility of the facilities,” said Craig.

Coun. Stephen Adams (Spryfield, Sambro Loop, Prospect Road) raised a point about the different types of facilities. He suggested that it would not make sense to charge the same price for an arena with facilities as an arena without.

Coun. Tim Outhit (Bedford, Wentworth) responded saying he believes that inside the municipality, the practice of charging more for the use of a newer facility, with amenities, would be elitist.

Staff reminded council that recommendations of any kind have yet to be made.

How will they make the decision?

In order to find the best practice for the HRM a project team has been formed to review current fees. This will include a wider review of all types of recreational facilities and their prices.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s motion, preliminary discussions on arena pricing took place with facility general managers of the arena’s in question.

In an interview after Tuesday’s council meeting, Al Driscoll, general manager of the Halifax Forum, said that so far the team has done a great job listening to their board.

Since the Forum is municipally owned, the operating fees are considered before the possibility of making a profit.

“If the rates go up, we’d make a bit of money. If the rates go down, we’d lose a bit,” said Driscoll. “That’s not what it’s about though. We’re a community facility.”

Halifax forum stands as an example for debate.
Halifax forum stands as an example for debate.   Avi Jacob

Driscoll said that the main concern should be community access. While he doesn’t think a change in fees will lose the Forum any business, he said it’s important to consider what it could mean for smaller privately owned rinks.

He said that changing the prices has the potential to change the rate of registration, especially if arenas with showers, full-sized rinks and heated seating suddenly cost the same as those without them.

Staff is expected to return to council with recommendations by the end of March 2017.

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