Council revisits ice rink fees

11 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Exactly how much should the town charge to rent ice time at the Millar Civic Center?
That question was back on the table for discussion by the Houlton Town Council Monday evening and once again drew considerable discussion by councilors.

The cost to rent ice time during peak hours was raised from $100 a year ago to $130 this year. 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 slightly over the past 14 years.
Back on Aug. 26, the council agreed to waive a proposed hike in ice fees for two groups — the Southern Aroostook Minor Hockey Association and Woodstock Minor Hockey Association — after both groups asked for a reduction in the fee for the upcoming season. They are among the primary private users of the rink.
At the Aug. 26 meeting, councilors agreed to set the rate at $110 per hour this year for those two organizations. A third group, the Houlton-Hodgdon Blackhawks varsity hockey squad, did not request a break in the ice fee and therefore will pay the full $130 per hour.
The matter was back in front of the council Monday evening when a proposal was made to put off the full increase until 2015. Instead the rate would have been raised to $110 this year, $120 next year and $130 the following year.
“The question is, ‘What is the right rate we should be charging?’” chairman Paul Cleary asked.
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.
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 have been 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.
Unfortunately, those fund-raising efforts have yet to raise the needed funds, prompting the town to dip into its own revenue stream to pay for the boards. Cleary said thus far, an outside group has raised “about $20,000” of the $75,000 needed.
After a brief discussion, a motion to set the three-year rate hike failed by a vote of 2-3 with councilors Dan Peabody, Phil Cloney and John White opposed. Therefore, the ice rate remains $130 for peak time for all groups, except SAMHA and Woodstock, who previously requested the waiver.
Councilors also agreed to re-form an advisory committee for the Millar Civic Center. The following individuals were appointed to the group — councilors Rob Hannigan and Peabody; Misty Marino, SAMHA representative; Bruce Nason, RSU 29 athletic director; Hailey Nickerson, civic center supervisor; Lori Weston, economic development director for Houlton; and Jennifer Cloney and Mike Jenkins, community members.
In other agenda items, the town learned it was in relatively good financial shape based on its mid-year report from Ron Smith of RHR Smith and Company.
“Your revenue projections are coming in almost status quo as last year, with the exception that excise tax and ambulance billing are ahead of where you were last year,” the auditor said. “We see nothing alarming in the expenditure side of your budget based on the first six months.”
Smith said his one piece of advice, which he has given the town in the past, was to alter its charter so that a mid-year report could be replaced by an end-of-year pre-audit.
“That way you would be able to better see where the revenue streams are,” Smith said. “By moving it to an end-of-year pre-audit, it would give you better information to make better decisions about your next upcoming budget.”
During the councilor remarks portion of the meeting, chairman Cleary stated he had been approached by a number of prominent citizens in the community who have expressed concerns about Houlton Regional Hospital and its plan to discontinue long-term care. Cleary asked the town manager to request a meeting with hospital executives to speak with the council at a future meeting.
In other agenda items, the council:
• Accepted donations of $180 and $300 from Paradis Shop N’ Save and the Houlton Pioneer Times respectively for the town’s playground equipment fund-raising effort. Thus far, the town has raised about $41,000 of the $100,000 that is needed for new playground equipment at the Just for Kids Park.
• Named Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, to a seat on the town’s planning board.
• Accepted a low bid of $21,800 from Honeywell for a temperature control system at the Millar Civic Center.
The next regular meeting of the Houlton Town Council will be Tuesday, Oct. 15 due to the Columbus Day holiday.