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Hockey groups in limbo as Norfolk delays suggestions for county arenas

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Minor hockey groups in Norfolk will need overtime this spring to plan for the 2020-21 season.

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Norfolk’s community services department has discussed uncertainty over the upcoming season with representatives of minor hockey groups in Delhi, Simcoe, Port Dover, Langton and Waterford in recent weeks.

Talks are on hold pending public suggestions for use of Norfolk arenas that might lighten the county’s financial load.

As part of sweeping reforms involving a host of Norfolk institutions, Norfolk council agreed to invite proposals for innovative uses of county arenas during its levy-supported budget deliberations at the end of January. However, the county confirmed this week that this process is on hold as well due to concerns and uncertainty raised by the COVID-19 public health alert.

“COVID-19 has set us back a bit on that,” said Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s general manager of community services.

Norfolk council was looking forward to an update on the request-for-proposal process later this month but Cridland noted this has been put over until May.

To this point, community services staff has divided talks with the local associations into two.

At one table are the Simcoe and District Minor Hockey Association, the Waterford Minor Hockey Association and the Port Dover Minor Hockey Association.

At the second table are the Delhi Minor Hockey Association and the Langton and Area Minor Hockey Association.

Cridland said the objective is to bring all parties together to hammer out a co-ordinated plan that ensures everyone has the ice time they need.

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“The messaging was the same — that there would be no further closures until the request-for-proposal results were presented to county council for their debate, after seeing the outcome,” he said.

“Council will have final say on future closures but needs the information from the RFP.”

All associations have been asked to submit ice-time requests. Norfolk staff has given assurances that talks will continue until everyone has the allotment they need.

“Obviously — depending on the number of ice surfaces we have available — being four or five will be a big part of those talks,” Cridland said.

“Going forward, county staff and the user groups will work closely in order to ensure ice allocation in Norfolk meet the needs of the users as well as being in line with county council’s objectives on cost-containment. Lots of work to do.”

Local groups are concerned because one of the reforms approved Jan. 28 involves closing the arena at the Simcoe Recreation Centre and giving this space over to the Simcoe Seniors Centre.

Mitch VanWynesberghe, president of Delhi minor hockey, worries that Norfolk County could take a second arena out of play.

“What are the plans here?” he said in an interview. “What scares us more than anything is the potential privatization of an arena. Five arenas is OK but four would be a disaster.

“We need some clear direction. We’re all willing to sit down with the county and find out what works.”

Talks have been divided in two, in part, because minor hockey associations in Simcoe, Port Dover and Waterford have amalgamated their rep hockey programs. The objective is to secure an “A” rating with the Ontario Minor Hockey Association. The amalgamated organization is called the Norfolk Minor Hockey Association.

Some parents in the local area have entered their children in rep hockey programs outside Norfolk to expose them to a higher calibre of play. With the creation of NMHA, local associations hope to repatriate these players while retaining top talent in the future.

In recent correspondence with SDMHA, Cridland noted that nearly $2 million of the $3 million spent on Norfolk arenas in 2019 came from property taxes. Norfolk expects to spend about $2.85 million this year in the same area, with $1.8 million of this derived from the levy.

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