CK council approves restoring arena service levels

(Photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / dotshock)

The municipality is moving forward with reopening arenas across Chatham-Kent.

During Monday night’s council meeting, Ward 1 Councillor Melissa Harrigan put forward a motion requesting that the municipality resume its committed arena service levels as assumed in the 2020 budget.

Harrigan presented her motion towards the end of the meeting and stressed the urgency of not pushing the decision to the next council meeting.

“There are a number of community groups that are looking for guidance and information as to whether or not their local arena is going to be open this season,” she said. “Staff is also looking for some information…we’re now in the middle of September and many of the sports seasons that are able to operate with the appropriate COVID-19 restrictions in place are looking to start their time on the ice.”

Ward 3 Councillor Steve Pinsonnealut echoed Harrigan’s concerns and urged council to vote in favour of the motion.

Pinsonneault was one of the multiple councillors who said that he’s heard concerns from local hockey and skating groups about when they would be able to get back on the ice.

“In East Kent here, we’re a border ward and once a group leaves, they don’t come back,” said Pinsonneault. “They’re dealing with lower ice rates across the border so for them, once they’re settled, they’re going to stay there. These are unprecedented times and we have to do as much damage control as we can…we have to keep our arena systems healthy.”

In May, council approved recommendations from staff that included keeping arenas closed for the spring/summer season to help offset the $3 million deficit that the municipality was expected to face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-August, a few select arenas in the municipality were reopened due to demand for usage.

Harrigan noted that Chatham-Kent recently received over $5 million from the provincial government under the Safe Restart Agreement to help maintain vital service levels during the pandemic.

“We have to continue to be very diligent in our fight against COVID-19 but there has also been clear direction from the province around their support in helping us to live in what I would call our pandemic normal…having a local arena is something that’s incredibly important to a number of people and a number of stakeholders,” said Harrigan. “If we were ever to make the decision for a community not to have an arena open, that should be a decision that comes through long term and careful planning, not one that comes in the height of a pandemic… ultimately, we in 2020 committed to a service level to our community and that service level was interrupted due to COVID-19 and we now have the funds from the province to reinstate that service level and it’s important that we do so.”

Chief Financial Officer Gord Quinton said he’s comfortable with the financial position that the municipality is in and that reopening arenas would be financially feasible.

“Until just the end of August when the province made the [funding] announcement, until that time we were still facing a deficit. We knew the arena revenues, because much of the arenas are paid by user fees, the user fees were likely not going to match the 2020 budget projections that were used in the budget and there’d be a shortfall. Since that time the province has come through with a $5.8 million initial pledge under the Safe Restart Program to cover municipal deficiencies caused by COVID-19,” explained Quinton. “Council now can weigh whether to run arenas at a level that’s perhaps at a lower efficiency than normal but council has the option now to use that provincial funding to basically have a greater subsidy to arenas to get through the 2020 season.”

Harrigan’s motion also requested that staff return to council in December with a report on arena operations as a result of the reopenings.

Harrigan’s motion ultimately passed 88 per cent to 12 per cent.