Common Council in Saint John is being asked to consider closing one of the city’s four arenas it owns and operates.
City staff is recommending either the Charles Gorman or Hilton Belyea Arena be closed as a financial sustainability initiative. It’s a move that would help deal with an impending budget deficit of $9 million to $10 million in 2021.
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Closing one of the arenas would save the city about $155,000 per year and staff say ice time demand could largely be met by the other three.
Council was told any move would not be made without consultation.
“Through our consultative processes we’ll also have discussions with all the user groups and the community to figure out which (arena) makes the most sense to close,” said city manager John Collin.
Getting the private sector involved also became part of the conversation.
“If the price is right, I have no problem selling them the rink,” said Councillor Gary Sullivan. Collin did say a recommendation surrounding possibly leasing out the city’s entire arena inventory is in the works.
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Recreation played a major part in discussions around the council table on Monday night. Council is also being asked to consider how much it subsidizes facilities like ball fields and arenas to the groups that use them. That could lead to hefty fee increases down the road.
Mayor Don Darling again brought up what he sees as the need to maximize the return on what the city pays out.
“Arenas 1.6 million (dollars) in cost and we collect $680,000 in user fees,” Darling said to council. “Can we afford to do it anymore? So maybe there’s an argument to get out of this subsidize business altogether.”
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Both the arena closure and recreation subsidization issue will remain issues the council will continue to consider as part of both cost cutting and revenue generating initiatives.
Council is not bound to act on any of these recommendations. Staff is expected to go back and fine tune the proposals and then bring them back to council.
Council will make a final decision on all financial sustainability items by the end of March.
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