Last week, The Leader pointed out in its editorial the high grocery store prices and the response from the big three grocery store chains. Record high food inflation, which stands at 11 per cent from last year, is causing families – large and small – to re-examine their budgets to cope with prices. Where money is tight, more and more people have to determine their priorities, and decide where their money is spent. There is another budget line that families have to look at to make ends meet, recreation.
Municipalities across Ontario, including South Dundas, have resorted to increasing user fees in some areas to offset tax increases. Often when balancing increased user fees, officials will consider fee increases and the impact on the community. Some municipalities have been more successful at this than others.
South Dundas council supported a wide-scale increase in user fees involving indoor recreation spaces at its March 13 meeting. Arena ice fees, while still the lowest of the six municipalities in SDG Counties, will increase by 21 per cent for youth recreation. The direct impact on the popular minor hockey and figure skating programs for ice time will be passed through those organizations to families through increased registration costs.
Indoor recreation programs like hockey and skating usually have the highest registration costs in a community – South Dundas is no exception. Like many organizations, there are fees that go to national and provincial sports bodies, insurance, and high equipment costs. All contribute to higher registration fees. Each year, there has been increased use of funding programs like Jumpstart or the UCDSB’s Champions for Kids, to pay for the recreation costs. Far too often, there are families who do not qualify for the financial assistance, or will not ask for help with the high recreation fees and whose children miss out on the opportunities that recreation through sport provide.
There is a good financial case for increasing ice rental fees, and other indoor recreation space fees. Arenas are expensive to operate and even with the increases, only recoup about half of the operating expenses. Municipalities are under the same inflationary pressures that families are. Many hard costs have increased, and again there is a pass through to the residents. Municipalities do not have the luxury of deficit spending like their provincial and federal counterparts.
The risk of resorting to user fee increases is poor timing. For the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, every effort was made to keep costs as slow as possible, and that was without the high inflation we see now.
Many municipal governments – including South Dundas – have cast caution to the wind concerning increases, choosing not to find that balance of affordability, failing to ensure that everyone has as much opportunity as possible in their community.