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City nets savings from outdoor rink cuts

Staff have reported back on how much the city will save from controversial outdoor skating rink cuts.
20220103 Skating Pond 0074
City council voted to end operations at about a quarter of outdoor rinks this year. (Evan Buhler, RMO)

THUNDER BAY — A controversial process to cut numerous outdoor rinks will net the City of Thunder Bay around $73,000 in savings next year.

City council had voted to close the rinks — largely unboarded skating ponds — in the fall without knowing the amount that would be saved.

Staff reported the $73,000 estimate on Monday, though council also added back $9,000 to support access to change rooms at two community rinks.

Council cut the number of outdoor rinks the city maintains by about a quarter in September, reining in earlier proposals for deeper cuts.

The closed rinks include those at the Woodside, Anton, Picton, and Holt parkettes, Wilson and Franklin parks, at Confederation Drive and at Third and High.

Supervised rinks at Waddington Park, Charry Park, and Oliver Road Park were also downgraded to operate as boarded unsupervised sites.

The city had already notified residents living near 11 outdoor rinks that the sites were on a watchlist to be closed or downgraded, after failing to meet those thresholds in annual counts. Staff have reported the majority of city rinks are falling short of usership targets.

Council had earlier considered closing 31 of the city’s 39 outdoor rinks for an estimated savings of $365,000, during a failed council-led process to reduce annual spending by $1.5 million.

Coun. Kasey Etreni, who proposed the smaller level of cuts, argued the city could improve ice quality at remaining locations with parks staff spread less thinly.

The rinks council voted to eliminate were largely unboarded and unsupervised ponds that are cheaper to operate, leaving smaller savings on the table.

Coun. Andrew Foulds argued the $73,000 saved by not operating the rinks should be put back into city recreation services, not simply cut from the budget going forward.

“If we’re not going to do rinks, I’d much rather see those dollars redeployed to other recreation facilities that perhaps are emerging,” he said.

The push by Foulds to return those dollars to the budget failed on a 7-4 vote, however, with only Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, Coun. Greg Johnsen, and Coun. Dominic Pasqualino joining Foulds in support.

Monday’s vote also saw $9,000 added to the 2024 budget to provide rink grants to the Oliver Road and Current River recreation associations.

The organizations reached out to the city requesting support to make their heated change rooms accessible during skate times, after learning they would be downgraded.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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