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posted October 24, 2007

Operating budget, outdoor rinks 2007:

In mid-August 2007, Mayor David Miller announced that the city’s 49 outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks wouldn’t open until January 1, to save money that the city doesn’t have. The story had some unexpected plot twists. Although requests by various councillors to discuss the rink cuts were repeatedly ruled out of order at City Hall, MasterCard suddenly changed the bad news – by offering to pay the $160,000 that the City said they would save by keeping the rinks closed during the busiest month of the rink season.

Mayor Miller accepted the offer a few hours later. But as he said, you can’t run a city on corporate donations. Cities are run on taxes and user fees.

How much does it really cost to run these rinks?

We know that the outdoor rinks are not run on $160,000 a month. But the real numbers are still unknown, according to the City's outdoor Rinks manager Kevin Bowser. At an October 17 outdoor-rinks meeting called by CELOS, Mr.Bowser acknowledged that city staff are still working on the project begun by ex-Parks and Recreation director Don Boyle in 2002. The project is identifying the specific costs for each operation run by Parks and Recreation. Mr.Bowser said that although staff have worked for the last seven months on trying to determine the costs of running the outdoor rinks, that information will not be available until January 2008 at the earliest.

In the press, it was reported that cancelling the December rink season would save either $800,000 (John Barber, Globe and Mail, August 29, 2007), or $569,400 (2006 Parks, Forestry and Recreation Operating Budget Overview, Appendix A), or $160,000 (John Barber, Globe and Mail, September 1, 2007). The Toronto Sun reported on September 21 that the whole outdoor rink season costs $2.9 million, which isn't a sum of any of those numbers. The 2006 Operating Budget Overview prepared by Parks management for the Budget Committee says the whole outdoor artificial ice rink season costs $1.7 million. But this seems to have been an estimate.


At the October 17 CELOS rink meeting, outdoor rinks manager Kevin Bowser said that the City uses about 50 seasonal zamboni drivers and 30 permanent staff zamboni drivers. If a zamboni driver costs the city about $30 an hour counting benefits (that number may be too low), that means each driver would cost $14,400 per twelve-week season, i.e. $1.15 million for all the zamboni drivers, for a 12-week season.

By that calculation, with a full complement of zamboni drivers it would cost about $300,000 for the 24 days most rinks will be open in December. Mr. Bowser said that he was not counting rink mechanical staff, since they are outside contractors. [Note: however, the rinks in the former City of Toronto are all serviced by City employees, except if something serious breaks.]

Staffing the individual rinks with rink guards and building attendants must cost less, since their wages are a fraction of the ice maintenance staff. But at this point we have no numbers for this cost.


At the October 17 CELOS rink meeting, outdoor rinks supervisor Brian Green estimated that the outdoor rinks utilities cost is between $3000 and $5000 a week. For a twelve-week season it would cost between $1.7 million and $3 million in utilities. Put another way, each rink would have a utilities cost of between $36,000 and $60,000 a season.

That means that running all the rinks for three weeks in December would cost between $441,000 and $735,000 in utilities.

For comparison: Ted Reeves (indoor) Arena reported $110,000 utilities cost for a year. If they were open for 40 weeks that would be $2500 a week.


There is no information yet about the cost of maintaining or replacing zambonis or other trucks used at outdoor rinks, nor about vehicle fuel costs.

Energy Retrofit:

In 2004, City Council took out a loan for a $10.3 million energy retrofit project for arenas and outdoor rinks. The retrofit was intended to save so much money that the utilities savings would entirely cover the debt repayment. However, the total utilities costs have actually gone up as energy prices rose.

It is unclear how much the computerization of the rink plants, and the weather stripping, have saved in rink energy costs, since there were no reliable baseline rink energy cost numbers for comparison at the beginning of the project.

The energy retrofit plan puzzled CELOS researchers and also many of the front-line City park staff when they first heard about it. But the City’s Access to Information office said they couldn’t share any details about what the cost-saving measures would be – “commercial information” is private. CELOS appealed that decision to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, and after a delay of almost a year, the decision went in favour of CELOS. The list of energy retrofit methods will therefore be available for CELOS researchers to study and take notes by the end of October.

Meanwhile, it’s now time for the City to begin paying back the energy retrofit loan, in the amount of $1.3 million a year for ten years (all of it payable from the Parks, Forestry and Recreation operating budget).

Capital budget, outdoor rinks, 2006

(State of Good Repair category) $1,839,000 (100% debt, none from Reserves) plus $2,250,000 (100% debt, none from Reserves). This includes two brand new rinks (Wallace-Emerson and Harry Gairey, $1.1 million each), and repairs like the header trench work at Dufferin Rink ($200,000?).

Note: putting a new window into an existing windowless rink changeroom or staffroom does not count as “state of good repair.” That $2000 cost is classified as a “service improvement,” and therefore low priority, far down the list behind the categories “health and safety,” “mandated by legislation,” and “state of good repair.”

Detailed figures for other Parks, Forestry and Recreation capital costs are unavailable to us.

Context: Overall Parks, Forestry and Recreation Operating Budget, 2007:

The 2007 payroll together with other costs means that the Parks, Forestry and Recreation budget is around $303.4 million gross (we couldn’t find the exact number in the documents). Revenue from permits, user fees and various provincial and federal grants reduces the budget size to $226.146 million net. But that’s still quite a lot.

Ten year recap:

-2001 Parks and Rec budgeted operating expenditures (note: figures have been adjusted for inflation): $228,707,453 - population of the new City of Toronto (potential parks and rec users): 2,481,494 people

- 2006 Parks and Rec budgeted operating expenditures (note: figures have been adjusted for inflation): $288,551,619 - population of the City of Toronto (potential parks and rec users): 2,503,281 people.

- 0.9% increase in population in 2001 to 2006: only 21,787 more people

- 26.2% increase, i.e. increase of nearly $60 million (note: figures have been adjusted for inflation) in Parks, Forestry, and Recreation budgeted operating expenditures in the last ten years.

In that same period there's been less of many things in Parks and Recreation – including rink season length. The number of full-time-equivalent (FTE’s) staff positions, however, increased by 743.4 in Parks and Recreation, in the nine years since amalgamation.


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Content last modified on January 08, 2009, at 08:45 AM EST