Tempers flare, then cool, over ice fees
Instead of a proposed increase to $170 an hour for ice time at both indoor rinks, the five-member board opted to raise fees by just $5 at Dobson to $145 for youth, $170 for adults and $190 for private use.
At the Ice Dome – the seasonal structure at the Vail Public Golf Course commonly known as “the Bubble” – rates will go from $120 to $130 for youth users, $145 to $155 for adults and $160 as the posted rate.
Faced by flaring tempers from hockey representatives, board members defended their efforts to raise an estimated $23,000 in additional user fees – a drop in a bucket for one of the district’s largest recreation programs.
Hockey and figure-skating clubs, such as Vail Junior Hockey and the Skating Club of Vail, bring in an annual $110,000 in user fees – an amount far below the $270,000 the district needs to pay the annual debt payment for Dobson’s recent $3.5 million renovation. In addition, the district must pay $120,000 annually in set-up and break-down the bubble.
“Can you bring us some revenues to off-set some of those cost?” asked district board member Julie Hansen.
Ice users told the district board that a substantial free increase would only punish kids, pricing them out of participation after three years in which ice rates in Vail have doubled.
“I have a hard time understanding why your largest, most loyal user sports group is being singled out for this disproportionate rate increase,” Jerry Stevens of the junior hockey club told the district board.
Kevin Deighan, who unsuccessfully ran for the district board in April, characterized the proposed increase as “arbitrary,” saying it would further perpetuate Vail’s reputation as an anti-family-friendly town.
“This will make it more difficult for struggling parents,” he said.
“Our membership has told us that they don’t want fees to go up,” added Laurie Kleisinger, who’s also a board member for the junior hockey club. “Another increase would not go over well. We would probably lose membership.”
“One of the worst things we could do is that we reduce the use of the facilities,” said VRD board member Peter Cook before asking his colleagues to adopt a more modest increase.
The scaled-back increase would bring in an additional $7,000 to $10,000 a season.
Kleisinger said even a smaller increase may burden participating club members.
“We’ll have to discuss whether we increase the fees slightly. We have not done our budget yet,” she said. “We may have to spend more on ice or cut back on the amount of ice time we buy and our membership doesn’t want to do either of those.”
Kleisinger said many parents are already at the pain threshold with club fees ranging from $300 up to $1,000 per child active in hockey.
“I could hear where they standing,” she said of the recreation board’s dilemma, “but it was still disappointing that when no one has money the kids are the ones ending up losing. We operate under the premise to allow kids opportunities – but at a thousand bucks, some parents may go “you know what honey? Let’s look at fly fishing.'”
The increase – particularly the $10 increase for the bubble, which lacks both seating and heating – may backfire, Kleisinger said.
“We made a commitment at budget time after the bubble went up to buying more ice and allow teams to have at least one practise session a week on full ice instead of sharing it, and also have longer practise sessions,” Kleisinger said. “We are trying to keep any increase below $50, otherwise we’ll have to go back to pre-bubble time, where teams get less time and less ice.”
Responding to ice users’ suggestions to ask the town for subsidies, district board members said they are trying, but support from the ice user groups wouldn’t hurt.
“We are trying to work with the town, it is not as easy as it sounds,” replied district board chairman Nino Licciardi.
Figures and arguments have remained moving targets, but the majority of the Vail Town Council has said the town – which is looking for an additional $5 million itself – will not contribute to maintenance for recreational facilities.
Recreation board members Hermann Staufer and Tom Saalfeld both told ice users that in their opinion the town owes the district.
“I might be the Lone Ranger out there,” Staufer said, “but if you bring 200 people in uniform, they’ll listen to you and your rates won’t go up.”
Further rate increases for programs ranging from Camp Vail to tennis and rugby are scheduled for discussion next month.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.