Council debates future of summer ice

Estevan city council is looking for a recommendation from the leisure services board to aid in determining a final hourly rate for groups looking to rent summer ice at Affinity Place.

The City of Estevan is looking closely at cost-recovery of the leisure services division and Affinity Place in particular. It was noted at the Jan. 5 council meeting, cost recovery across the leisure services division may be less than 30 per cent.

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Rate increases across the board began in October, while council asked for further review of what should be done about the rates for renting summer ice at Affinity Place. The previous recommendation was to increase the rate from $175 per hour to $240. Leisure services manager Nathan Jesse noted such a significant increase may discourage the two largest renters of summer ice, a pair of hockey schools, from continuing to run their camps in Estevan. The increase would mean a 72 per cent rate hike over two years, and the report said a typical increase is between five and 15 per cent annually.

Coun. Kevin Smith, who sits on the leisure services board, noted the math had been done, and the proposed increase amounted to about an extra $5 per hour per person at those hockey schools, which he said he don’t feel was an “overwhelming” figure for those users.

A report to council noted the cost to operate Affinity Place with summer ice was about $134 per hour. However, council was concerned that wasn’t a true cost, one that doesn’t include the cost to operate the arena in down times, like overnight when the facility isn’t usable.

“Recovery in leisure services is way too little,” said Smith, who supported increasing the rate to the originally proposed $240 per hour.

Jesse filed a report with council last week that revisited the issue and proposed four options to update the user fees.

He noted there was an increase from 2013 to 2014 of about 30 per cent, from $122 to $175 per hour and also broke down the City’s expenses to operate the ice, noting the $134 per hour operating costs include $21 for building utilities, $50 for staff wages, $20 for the Zamboni machinery charge out, $18 for ice plant power and $25 for building administration.

Jesse presented four options for council to consider. Those included increasing the rate to $240 as previously recommended; increasing the rate by 14 per cent to $200 per hour; setting the ice rates for the next two years with 10 per cent overall increases, $190 this year and $210 next; or phasing in the $240 per hour rate over two years, $205 this year and $240 in 2016.

During discussion, councillors questioned whether or not to offer summer ice, mentioning the desire to market Affinity Place as an events complex. Though no councillor during the meeting suggested not having summer ice, the idea was met with some interest.

Coun. Trevor Knibbs expressed an interest to see the City try to attract more conventions, shows and concerts in the summer when the hockey season is inactive.

Though there is a floor that may be installed over the ice surface and glass in the boards may be removed, Knibbs noted that increases the costs of an event. Without the ice, those man-hours are not necessary and don’t need to be included in a price.

Keeping ice out over the summer, Knibbs noted, would also free up that facility for other opportunities that wouldn’t need to work around a schedule that he said was perhaps too bogged down by hockey users.

Coun. Greg Hoffort agreed that Affinity Place was meant to be a facility for everyone in Estevan and said there are many who haven’t stepped foot inside the doors yet because there hasn’t yet been a reason for them to. Diversifying the entertainment in Affinity Place, he added, should be a priority. 

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