Council slides in ice fee decision

Merna Emara

Fort Frances council members passed a decision to charge $7 per user per month to offset cleaning costs during ice-in time. The decision was made during council’s bi-weekly meeting on Monday.

The new motion will still require all organizations using the Memorial Sports Centre’s ice rink to pay money to contribute to the cleaning cost. However, this cost is projected to be much lower than the initial proposed plan.

Councillor Andrew Hallikas, who also sits on Community Services Executive Committee, came with the proposal to charge users of the rink anywhere from $5 to $10 per user per month that could be applied to all users.

The total additional cost of cleaning due to the COVID-19 virus is about $165,000 per year. Hallikas said there are about 825 ice users, about 22 Air Cadets and 250 gymnasts. That’s about 1,100 users not taking into account the gym and pool users who pay the yearly fees.

For example, if they were to charge a fee of $5 per month per user, that would generate about $30,000 per year out of the total additional cost of cleaning. A $10 per month per user fee would raise about $60,000, which would be just under 40 per cent of the additional cleaning cost.

Hallikas suggested $7 per user per month to be voted on by the rest of council.

This decision was not unanimous. Mayor June Caul provided the tie-breaking vote.

Councillors Mike Behan, John McTaggart and Doug Judson all voted against levying $7 per user per month. However, the reasons behind their votes are different.

Both Behan and McTaggart said they would vote in favour of $10 per month per user as opposed to the $7 proposed by Hallikas.

Behan said in respecting taxpayers, it is prudent to prepare for a worst-case scenario by making sure the town covers their bases. Behan added that should more funding and grants come along, town can decrease the $10 fee.

On the flip side of the coin, Judson said although he appreciates the creativity of looking at a way that they can equitably distribute that cost, in times like these it is incumbent on a municipal government as a service provider to the community to eat that portion of the cost.

“I think that that’s even more widely understood by the community at a time when people are struggling,” Judson said. “Many have lost work and income. We should strive to keep costs from flowing down to families. If we are still in this predicament a year from now, then we can give the organization more time to adjust to those new realities.”

The initial proposal that was met with resistance from council and community members entailed that ice users be required to either book and pay for two hours of ice time for each regular 50 minutes of play or book an hour and a half for each regular 50 minutes. This would leave sports organizations having to pay more in rental fees to offset the cost of hiring additional staff for cleaning and disinfecting purposes.

Caul having her vote make the ultimate decision, said with the mill being dismantled, there is a concern about how town will manage its finances the next several years.

“This pandemic is going to cause us some issues not just until the end of this year, but also up into next year possibly for more than another year,” Caul said. “We have to look into the future as well as trying to manage the budget and remember that this could be a long while before we are through all of this. We will try to do the best we can with you in mind as our residents.”

As for not allowing spectators, McTaggart said, the provincial government will mandate limits, without council having to make a decision.