Minor hockey fees up in Abbotsford as city ends subsidy

Contract confidentiality curbs city comment

Children play in an Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association game.

by Laura Rodgers, Abbotsford News

It’s getting more expensive to play minor hockey in Abbotsford this year.

Local dad Chris Draaistra paid over $1,500 this spring to enrol his four sons. But now he’ll have to pay $300 more, because the City of Abbotsford has stopped subsidizing ice fees for the league.

Draaistra’s four boys play in the Fraser Valley Christian Junior Hockey league, which they like for its religious focus and for being “just competitive enough.”

The league holds practices and games at the Centre Ice arena in west Abbotsford, which is privately owned. For the past five years, the City of Abbotsford has subsidized ice fees for all minor hockey leagues at Centre Ice, but that agreement hasn’t been renewed.

“For us to take the brunt of that, it’s frustrating,” said Draaistra. “It may impact whether or not all of our boys play this year.” Sources told the Abbotsford News that when the five-year agreement was in place, the city gave Centre Ice $85 for each hour of ice time booked by minor hockey groups.

This allowed the arena to charge these groups $210 per hour of ice time, rather than the usual rate of $299. Two main leagues, the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association and the Fraser Valley Christian Junior Hockey Association, made use of the lower-priced ice. Altogether, this represented about $20,000 in savings for the FVCJHA, and about $50,000 for the AMHA.

The AMHA, a larger league with close to 1,000 players, was able to make up the difference from its contingency fund this year. But the FVCJHA, a smaller group, had to pass on the extra costs to parents.

Mayor Henry Braun says he can’t discuss why the subsidy wasn’t renewed, because of a confidentiality clause in the contract between the City of Abbotsford and Centre Ice.

“Council will be looking into this,” said Braun. “In the interests of transparency, we should make it public, but that’s just my opinion.”

Trevor Bamford, president of the AMHA, said the end of the subsidy came as a surprise for the league.

“We were not prepared to pay 50 per cent more than what we had budgeted,” Bamford said.

Bamford said he and the AMHA board have been encouraged by the city to instead book ice at the Abbotsford Centre, which is owned by the city. Since the Abbotsford Heat professional hockey team left the arena in 2014, there has been a civic push to instead fill the ice with community groups.

Ice fees for community organizations are currently lower at the Abbotsford Centre than even the former subsidized rate at Centre Ice, but Bamford says the Abbotsford Centre doesn’t have enough time available for his minor league to relocate all practices and games currently planned for Centre Ice.

“Concerts and other special events take precedence,” said Bamford. “To get ice on a regular basis is very difficult.”

He said the league was able to book a few ice sheets at the Abbotsford Centre “here and there,” but they still have to schedule many practices and games at Centre Ice for now.

The FVCJHA, which doesn’t just operate in Abbotsford, may opt to move more practices and games to Langley. The Township of Langley offers ice at $139 per hour to youth groups, subsidized by the city from the full rate of $344.

The City of Abbotsford currently has no response on the issue, due to the contract’s confidentiality clause.

“I have information in my head that I can’t say publicly yet,” Braun said. “I’m going to try and make it public as quickly as we can.”