HOULTON, Maine — Last September, after discussing what to do to generate more revenue for the Millar Civic Center, town councilors decided that they would raise the ice rates at the facility in the fall of 2013.
When it came time to actually do it, however, councilors didn’t have enough votes to make it happen.
During a meeting last week, the Town Council voted to waive the peak hourly fee of $130 for ice time after both the Southern Aroostook Minor Hockey Association and the Woodstock Minor Hockey Association asked for a reduction in the fee for the upcoming season. The two groups are major users of the facility.
The town loses money on the facility, which costs approximately $200,000 annually to run. Revenue in 2010 paid only half of the operating costs. While the facility can hold 3,260 people, it is too small for large concerts and shows. The majority of its revenue comes from rental income and concession profits.
During a meeting late last August, councilors agreed to a proposal to raise the ice fee from $100 to $130 during peak time, which is 3 p.m.-9 p.m Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday. They considered implementing the plan immediately, but since the Southern Aroostook Minor Hockey Association had already based its budget on the $100 ice fee, councilors opted to wait a year and give everyone a chance to plan for the increase.
During the recent meeting, the Southern Aroostook hockey organization asked for the fee to be reduced to $110 per hour, while Woodstock Minor Hockey Association asked for it to remain at $100 per hour. By reducing the fees, the town will lose an estimated $4,300 in revenue.
Councilor John White said he was against offering the groups waivers, only because the council had given them a year to prepare their budgets.
“The town has invested a lot of money in the arena and the bills are coming due,” he said. “We can’t kill our budget. If the fee was $130, that is what it should be. That extra $20 an hour falls on the taxpayers. Everyone wants the best of everything but nobody wants to pay the bills.”
Council Chairman Paul Cleary said he did not have a problem waiving the fee hike as long as the same rate was charged to everyone.
Councilor John Fitzpatrick agreed, saying that he felt the facility had to stay competitively priced. If the fee was raised, the civic center would have charged one of the highest fees for peak ice times in the area.
The measure passed 4-2, with Councilors John White and Phil Cloney voting in opposition to waiving the ice fee hike.