Saint Lazare program ‘equal but not equitable’
Saint Lazare’s elected officials will meet with groups affected by a new policy that will see significant funding cuts to local ice sport organizations, including hockey.
The town changed its financial support program in May and held an information session on June 9 that was attended by over 200 people.
Calling the session “not pleasant” Mayor Robert Grimaudo said the majority were hockey parents unhappy with the policy change.
Following the information session, elected officials agreed to meet with those from ice sport organizations like hockey, ringuette and speed skating to discuss a discrepancy that was brought to light.
“It was noted that since the town pays to provide facilities like soccer and baseball fields, but doesn’t pay for the arena since it’s run by a private venture, there is a bit of a difference,” Grimaudo said.
The town’s financial assistance support program was changed to offer compensation directly to eligible residents including kids 17-years-old and under, and those 60 and over.
People will be compensated up to fifty-percent of a total registration cost or a maximum $50 per activity. Residents can submit two requests per year for a total $100 in rebates. Saying the town was following the lead of similar federal and provincial recreation funding guidelines, Grimaudo said the idea was one other Saint Lazare administrations had considered but not fully explored.
In addition to leveling the playing field for all sports, Grimaudo says the new policy includes rebates for residents in the right age groups wanting to give cultural classes and programs a try.
“Not everyone is in to sports so if your child wants to take piano lessons, ceramics classes, or join a chess group, they can,” he noted. And the town’s seniors can now get a break on being active, he added, explaining that rebates will be sent directly to residents.
Before the policy went into effect in May, Saint Lazare’s budget included some $300,000 that was given to four sports.
Two-thirds of the funds went to hockey and other ice sports, while the remainder was divided between volleyball, gymnastics, and swimming. Those in activities like dance, painting and music, who joined running or skiing programs, or who played soccer or basketball, did not benefit at all.
“This way it’s fair for everyone,” Grimaudo said, adding the policy also ensures the money goes directly back to Saint Lazare families.
“With the old policy we had no way of knowing if the money went toward helping families. It was totally within the organization’s discretion to use the funds however they saw fit.”
The mayor, who said the new policy was unanimously approved by all town councillors, says he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from residents happy with the change.
“But people who are happy don’t tend to show up at meetings. That’s just the nature of things.”
Mike Fedele, president of the Hudson Rigaud Saint Lazare Hockey Club, HRS, says the organization is “disappointed” in how the town reached a decision that will have a major impact on many. Saying the new policy means families will have to pay as much as $350 more up front, Fedele thinks some will opt out of playing hockey altogether.
“The program they put forward is equal but not equitable,” Fedele noted, saying he will meet with the mayor early next week.
The father of three hockey players says instead of paying $450 at registration time, which will get underway in early July, families will now pay at least $750 per player.
“So they have to come up with that amount and then apply to the city and wait as much as six months to get a $50 refund.”
He also thinks all the administrative work that will go into processing each rebate request will negate any savings to the town.
Last year the HRS Hockey Club had more than 680 registered players ranging in age from 5-17-years-old. Fedele feels the club may lose up to 20-percent of its players, especially those in the younger single letter programs. “This has a significant impact to hockey players and to not put this out progressively, with little to no consultation and no impact study seems like a poorly thought out program,” noted Fedele. “This has left a number of families scratching their heads wondering how they’re going to make ends meet.”