Council waives ice fee hike

11 years ago

  HOULTON, Maine — A planned hike in ice rates at the John Millar Arena will not be going into effect after all.

Houlton town councilors voted Monday evening to waive the planned peak hourly fee of $130 for ice time after both the Southern Aroostook Minor Hockey Association and Woodstock Minor Hockey Association asked for a reduction in the fee for the upcoming season.
The proposal drew considerable discussion from the council, and did not pass unanimously. Councilors John White and Phil Cloney opposed waiving the increase, while councilors John Fitzpatrick, Rob Hanningan, Dan Peabody and Paul Cleary voted in favor of the measure.
Back on Aug. 27, 2012, the issue of raising the rink fee was first broached as a way to increase revenue at the arena. At that time, the plan was to raise the fee for ice time during peak hours from $100 to $130. However, because SAMHA had already formed its budget based on the $100 fee, that group asked to be excluded from the increase.
At that time, councilors had a problem granting a lower rate to one organization, while charging the full amount to others. Therefore, they voted unanimously to keep the rate at $100 for the 2012-13 hockey season, with the caveat that for 2013-14 the rate would go up to $130 for everyone.
Monday evening, the council was faced with requests from both SAMHA and WMHA. SAMHA sought to reduce the $130 per hour fee to $110, while WMHA sought a rate of $100 per hour for peak ice time. By reducing the fees, the town will lose $4,300 in projected revenue for the Civic Center based on last year’s usage.
Peak ice times are from 3-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. The fee for off-peak time is $75 per hour. The fee for peak ice time has risen slowly over the past 14 years.
“The previous council did adopt the higher rate and gave all participants notice,” Houlton Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said. “It’s up to you whether or not you want to uphold the action of last year or accept the request for a waiver.”
Chairman Cleary asked if the Civic Center ever had to turn groups down for ice time during peak hours because of availability. Conlogue said he did not believe that was the case.
“I think it would be fair to say that we still have some prime time ice available at peak rates,” Conlogue said.
Cleary stated when the Civic Center first re-opened in 1999; there was discussion of offering discounted rates for groups that used a large amount of ice time. He could not recall if any such agreement was ever put into effect. The building has traditionally operated with a loss sometimes as much as $100,000 per year.
Historically, the town believed that the fee for peak ice time at the Millar Civic Center was the lowest in the area, compared to the Forum in Presque Isle; the Carleton Arena in Woodstock, New Brunswick; and the Barn, in Hartland, N.B.
However, based on data presented to the council in a letter from SAMHA President Melissa Marino, that was no longer the case, especially when factoring in the hike to $130 per hour for peak time. Based on the data in Marino’s letter, the Forum charges $110 for peak ice time, while the Carleton Arena charged a sliding fee scale between $68-$126 (Canadian funds) and the Barn charges $85 per hour.
Conlogue said the town had not had an opportunity to verify those figures.
“I don’t have a problem with the request (for a waiver), as long as we are charging the same amount to Woodstock that we are to SAMHA,” Cleary said.
Councilor White strongly disagreed.
“I thought last year we made a pretty good compromise,” White said. “We said we would give them a year to budget for it. The town has invested a lot of money in the arena and the bills are coming due. We can’t kill our budget. If the fee was $130, that’s what it should be. That extra $20 per hour (falls) on the taxpayers. Everyone wants the best of everything, but nobody wants to pay their bills.”
Councilor Fitzpatrick said the Civic Center needed to stay competitively priced if it wants to keep groups using the facility.
“We know we’re not a Cadillac by any means,” he said.
“We also can’t be a charity,” White responded.
The town recently agreed to spend a significant amount of money for upgrades to the Civic Center including $22,000 for a new computerized temperature control system; $12,000 to replace a compressor for the ice rink; and $1,000 for a new skate sharpener.
In addition, new hockey boards, at a cost of about $142,000 will be purchased for the upcoming season. The town had set aside $75,000 in an account for the boards, with the hopes that fund-raising efforts would cover the remaining share. Not wanting to wait another year before purchasing the boards, the town agreed to pay the entire amount, with whatever money coming from fundraising used to help offset the costs.
Peabody, who is a past president of SAMHA, said raising the rate to $130 was not likely to result in an increase in revenue to the town.
“They (SAMHA) are only going to spend so much money for ice, because they only have so much,” he said. “What will happen is they will shrink their ice time and only spend a certain amount.”
The fee for the Houlton-Hodgdon Blackhawks varsity program was not changed as no formal request was made to the town. Conlogue advised the council that now that the fee had been reduced for two of the three groups, it was likely that the Blackhawks would request a similar reduction. The Blackhawks used 65 hours of peak ice time last year.
If the Blackhawks were to request the same reduction, the town would lose an additional $1,300 in projected revenue, bringing the total to $5,600.
In Conlogue’s Town Manager’s report, the council learned a pick-up truck used by the Parks and Recreation Department was in dire need of replacement. According to his report, the vehicle had a cracked frame and rust holes through the floorboards that allowed the person sitting inside to see the road underneath.
Parks and Recreation workers use the vehicle for summer and winter maintenance.
Chief Asselin, who was in attendance, advised the council that if the vehicle was as bad as the town manager was reporting, it needed to be taken out of service immediately. He offered the use of his department’s Animal Control Officer’s pickup on a temporary basis until alternative solutions could be found.
“If it’s as bad as we’re saying it needs to stop being used,” agreed Cleary. “It’s a liability issue.”
Conlogue said he would have the vehicle looked at by mechanics in the town’s public works department to see if it can be repaired before deciding on alternative options.
In other agenda items, councilors:
• Accepted a donation of $630 from various donors to be used for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program at the Houlton Police Department. The donated funds must be used for supplies for children and may not be used to offset the cost of the DARE officer’s salary. Chief Asselin said the donation will help keep the program funded for at least two more years.
• Listened to a presentation from Steve Healey of Pelletco on wood pellet heating options.
• Accepted donations of $900 to be used toward the expenses at the Houlton Rest Area.
The next meeting of the Houlton Town Council will be Monday, Sept. 9 at 6 p.m.