The city giveth, and the city taketh away.
On Monday, May 7, council decided to freeze ice rental rates at 2011 levels until 2014. At the same meeting, council approved a property tax increase of 4.5 per cent for residential properties.
Fees for ice rental at the three Cranbrook arenas have been steadily rising since the Memorial Arena was renovated in 2010.
Fees were scheduled to go up again by another five per cent this year, but council has voted to keep the fees at 2011 rates for the next three years.
Now, the rate for prime-time hourly rental of the RecPlex will stay at $249.90 for non-Cranbrook residents and $199.92 for Cranbrook residents until 2014.
At the Memorial Arena, the prime-time hourly rate will stay at $222.72, or the discounted rate of $181.38 for Cranbrook residents.
Meanwhile, the Kinsmen ice rental fee will remain $194.25 for non-Cranbrook residents, and $155.40 for Cranbrook residents.
Those rates will be decreased by seven per cent in 2013 when the HST is abolished, Mayor Wayne Stetski pointed out during Monday's meeting.
"The good news is when the HST returns to the PST/GST model in 2013, that should effectively result in a seven per cent reduction to the ice users."
In a report to Cranbrook city council accepted on Monday, May 7, Leisure Services Director Chris New said that although rates for the arenas have risen by about 30-50 per cent since 2009, revenue from the arenas has only gone up by about 2.3 per cent.
"The feedback from the staff is that more and more user groups are decreasing their use of the arenas," wrote New. "We have had a number of groups cut back hours, reduce number of games in tournaments, decrease number of teams in their leagues, and completely cut their usage.
"The number-one reason staff are hearing from the user groups for this decline is that these groups cannot handle the higher rates."
Back in 2010, council approved the six-year fee increase to pay for the Memorial Arena renovation, which was budgeted at $3.6 million. In the end, the project only cost $2.6 million.
Residents of Area C in the Regional District of East Kootenay were asked in a referendum in 2010 whether they would support a $1.3 million contribution to the Memorial Arena project.
They voted not to contribute, so the city kept its two-tier rate structure for the arenas, reflected by the regular rate for non-Cranbrook residents, and the discounted rate for Cranbrook groups.
Now, the regular rate for hourly ice rental at the Rec Plex is higher than most other B.C. municipalities, and higher even than the North East Sportsplex in Calgary, which charges $217.35 for an hour of ice time.
"In looking at the situation and comparing the cost of ice in Cranbrook versus other cities in the Kootenays, we were already at the high end. Potentially the only city around us that is higher was Calgary," said Stetski.
Meanwhile, council followed up its five-year financial plan by giving three readings to an average of 4.5 per cent increase in city property taxes this year.
According to the financial plan, the city needs to raise $20,917,748 from property taxes to balance its general fund. Increasing property taxes by 4.5 per cent will raise an extra $882,996 to help the city reach that target.
In 2012, the residential property tax rate will go up from $6.02 per $1,000 of assessed property value, to $6.57 per $1,000.
That means, for example, that a home valued at $287,400 would have paid $1,806 in property taxes last year, but will pay $1,888 this year. That's before the Provincial Home Owner Grant is applied, and it doesn't include parcel tax, local service area tax or city utilities.
Councillor Denise Pallesen pointed out that the increase would be much more if the city was to repair all the roads that need work, while Councillor Diana J. Scott said the increase is less than they originally thought it would need to be.
"I just want to remind everyone that when we started the process last year we thought this could be as high as nine per cent, so we really worked hard to get it down," said Scott.