After attending the most recent ‘committee of the whole’ meeting last Tuesday night, one subject got my attention. It was the subject of rental fees for the facilities operated by the municipality.
Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture Mark Guy outlined a plan to raise rental fees on ice rentals 2% and on all sports fields 5%. The justification was that this was to cover increasing costs associated with maintaining these facilities. Councillor Tim Sutton asked that with increasing hydro rates, would this increase cover those increased energy consumption costs? It is hoped (according to Mark Guy), that between the rate increase and a (soon to be released) staff plan to use energy more efficiently, that the increase would suffice.
Mark Guy also mentioned something that I think is the key to this situation for me and what residents should be aware of. The municipality already charges the highest ice rental rates in the region, below only the city of Ottawa. I was surprised by that. If rates are already the highest, why are they being raised further? Is there some type of improvement in service? No. The only thing here that I personally see, is that the municipality just wants to make more money on the backs of kids, parents and recreational hockey players. You think that a 2% increase won’t make much of a difference? Consider this, an amateur hockey association may have to rent ice as many as 400 or 500 times depending on the number of teams. So, at a 2% increase, that means the association would have to pay for one extra rental for every 50 they purchase. So essentially, they buy 51 ice rentals, but only get 50. So, if they rent the ice 500 times, they have to pay for the ice an extra ten times without using it.
It is expensive to pay for kids to play hockey these days. This just increases the cost of having teams or makes it more financially challenging for the amateur hockey associations that often already have money challenges. Don’t forget, these amateur hockey associations are run by volunteers and rarely have paid people to run them. I personally know people who give up 20-30 hours or more of their own time each week to make sure kids have a positive activity like sports or other activities to do. I’d personally like to thank these volunteers for all of the work they do for our kids. These activities are often the cornerstone of children’s social and physical development.
The higher the costs go for these activities, the less parents are able to put their children in these programs. Maybe instead of three activities each year, parents can only afford two for their kids. Or worse yet, maybe they can’t afford them any more. Hockey participation is dropping in Canada according to Hockey Canada stats and it’s not surprising. Hockey is slowly pricing itself out of the reach of some parents. Pretty soon, only the kids of families who are wealthy enough, will get to participate. I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without sports and other organized activities. This is the reality that more and more families are facing.
If the council and staff told me that this increase was going to be set aside in a capital account and used towards adding more facilities (maybe an indoor swimming pool) or improving services or adding new programs or adding solar panels to reduce energy costs, it would be a lot easier to take. But to me, it sounds like it’s just an increase for the sake of making more money, when the price is already the highest in the region.
One final thought I want to leave you with and that’s this……I wonder how many of the councillors (or the mayor) have kids in hockey? It’s pretty easy to say ‘Yes’ to a rate increase when it doesn’t affect you personally. That’s why I’m running for municipal council in North Grenville, because I’m a father and I know that families need a voice on council that represents them. To me, this council doesn’t seem to care about increasing the costs of raising a family in North Grenville.