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By: Donovan Vincent, Vanessa Lu
City Hall Bureau
Published: February 05, 2008
Source: The Star
Fees to rent city-owned soccer fields, community pools and ice rinks in Toronto would rise as much as 34 per cent under proposed increases to the city's 2008 operating budget.
The changes affect permit fees and would mean that, for instance, the cost to rent a city arena for a child's birthday party for one hour would cost $330.96 – an increase of $83.79. That arena rental is the biggest increase at 34 per cent but competitive youth hockey leagues would see an 18 per cent increase and community youth house hockey leagues a 10 per cent increase for ice time. When the increases would take effect is not yet clear.
It would be an extra cost the city's young hockey players can hardly afford, said Greater Toronto Hockey League president John Gardner. Even now, he said, the league must charge a $5 per person admission rate for competitive hockey games – including players and parents – just to cover ice rates. "How much more can we charge?" he said, noting his group pays about $3 million a year to rent ice for games.
One soccer official is also worried. Any increase will affect the soccer associations across the city where more than 39,000 players are registered. The association would have no choice but to pass it on, said Antonia Guidotti, vice-president of the Toronto Soccer Association.
Soccer field fees have already increased dramatically in the past few years.
"We are concerned," said Guidotti. "It's huge, the amounts of fees that we (already) have to pay."
But the city is facing a cash crunch. Already a land transfer tax and vehicle registration fee have been approved to help balance the budget. The average 21.5 per cent increase for the permit fees for ice, sports fields, pools and recreation programs would generate $5.7 million this year, according to figures before the city's budget committee.
Last month, city staff introduced a plan to increase user fees for city-run recreational programs such as swimming lessons and music classes as part of Everybody Gets to Play, a plan to boost access for low-income families.
That plan, still to be approved by city council, calls for the city to increase its "cost recovery" (also known as `user pay') percentage for recreational programs from 30 per cent to 50 per cent by 2014.
At the time of the announcement city officials backed away from a Star report that said permits for ice time would also increase substantially as part of the plan.
Instead, officials said permit fees would be debated during the budget process.
According to documents before the city's budget committee, the permit fee increases are the "first step'' in the plan to move toward the 50 per cent cost recovery, but parks and recreation department general manager Brenda Librecz said this was an error.
During yesterday's review of the 2008 operating budget – to be finalized at the end of March or first days of April – Librecz said permit fees will rise for just one year.
"So in 2009 up to 2014, it doesn't include the permit fees. It only includes our program fees from 2009 onward. So 2008 is unique,'' due to the city's financial pressures, she told the budget committee.
Some sports fields and room and gym rental for youths will remain free, she added.
Councillor Maria Augimeri, a member of the budget committee, wants to see the proposal to raise permit fees dropped altogether. "I believe there is enough support to pull this half-baked idea," she said.
"We wouldn't think of balancing a budget on the backs of welfare recipients. Why are we thinking of balancing a budget on the backs of needy kids?" Augimeri said.
With files from Paul Moloney and Phinjo Gombu
City's proposed fee hikes
Indoor ice use:
Commercial ice time for birthday parties, family skates or additional time privately booked by coaches for one-time spots for one prime-time hour would rise from $247.17 to $330.96, up 34 per cent.
Community adult ice time for one prime-time hour would rise from $231.12 to $273.76, up 18 per cent.
Competitive junior ice time for one non-prime time hour would rise from $86.67 to $111.59, up 29 per cent.
Competitive youth ice time for one prime-time hour would rise from $153.01 to $181.24, up 18 per cent.
Community youth ice time for one non-prime time hour would rise from $48.15 to $54.55, up 13 per cent.
For a non-profit, non-resident adult group to rent a pool for one hour would rise from $72.78 to $91.08, up 25 per cent.
To rent Lamport Stadium during a high season weekend for amateur use would rise from $103.97 an hour to $117.80 an hour, up 13 per cent.
For one hour of tennis court rental during prime-time hours from $51.99 to $58.90, up 13 per cent.