Thunder Bay, Ontario city council won’t decide the future of 31 outdoor rinks until next month at the earliest.
City administration had proposed eliminating most of Thunder Bay’s outdoor rinks, as part of direction from council to find a total of $1.2 million in budgetary savings.
The decision was already postponed in June, as council wanted further consultation from the public.
“I don’t anticipate that we will see all the rinks recommended for closure closed,” suggested Coun. Kristen Oliver. “I do know that there are rinks that are severely underutilized, and while they still hold an emotional tie to a lot of people in the community, the fact that they aren’t being used has to be taken into consideration.”
Should council choose to go ahead with the full list of outdoor rink closures, just eight sites would remain:
North End Park
West End Park
Vickers Park Trail
West Thunder Park
The online survey period closed on Sunday, and a summary of the results will be shared with council at their meeting scheduled for Sept. 11.
Indoor rink user fees won’t change until April 2024 at earliest
Council also heard public feedback regarding the potential closure of Neebing Arena.
Council heard that the savings anticipated from closing the arena would be approximately $180,000 for a full year, but users were not supportive of closing an arena as there is a shortage of ice time to meet the demand in Thunder Bay.
There were 222 survey respondents, and 87 per cent of them told city staff that they are willing to pay more for their ice time at city arenas in 2024, but that any number higher than five per cent would need to be steadily increased over three years.
Administration told council that the current ice use fees are below other markets in Northern Ontario. The current prices with tax range from $167.43 to as high as $211.75, as compared to Sudbury ($235-$360) North Bay ($134.05-$223.42) and Sault Ste Marie ($193-$215.25).
Oliver noted that the numbers presented to council show that Thunder Bay has been charging a low amount for ice time.
“If we can start shifting more to a user pay system, and alleviate some of that pressure off the property tax payer, it will be for the betterment of everyone,” Oliver said,
Survey respondents did offer up some suggestions to achieve savings or generate new revenue for arenas including sponsorship and naming rights, online ice availability, booking and payment, as well as payment options at concessions.
Any increase to user fees will be discussed as part of the 2024 budget process and would not take effect until April 1, 2024.
By Kevin Jeffrey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 29, 2023