Ice or no ice at Riverside Arena this July and August?

Published 6:00 am Saturday, June 13, 2020

That is a question of concern posed by a number of people this season, including Bruins management, hotel managers/owners, local business owners, and would-be visitors to the community alike.

Let me explain, first, that there are several factors which could determine the outcome of “the game” (ice). We have the COVID-19 crisis, which has caused much of the difficulty from the start, and it continues to play a key role in this as the newest Governor’s Executive Order will allow for just two pods of 10 (players and coaches combined) to be allowed on the ice at one time, but this cannot be in a competitive game or scrimmage format.

Just as importantly, we have the local businesses factor. Local business owners, like many local residents, pay property taxes to the City of Austin, so they expect that City services, such as public-run arenas (for hockey camps and similar) will be available so that they can lodge visitors in their hotel rooms and sell other goods and services such as food, gasoline, coffee, sporting goods, etc. But, providing summer ice costs much, much more than what local teams and programs are able to pay, to the tune of 4-5 times as much (and the vast majority of this is electric/refrigeration costs).

Then, we have the city leaders who are now striving to lead through a span of what well may be several financially-strapped years for a number of reasons, including COVID-19, which could very well result in a reduction of local government aid (LGA) from the State, tax revenue which makes for about 50 percent of our city operating budget. This new challenge has caused the city to “tighten its belt” via not hiring replacements for recently-vacated positions (due to retirement), not bringing on the “normal” number of seasonal parks-care workers, etc., in an effort to curtail spending. So, the council does realize the implications of their decisions, which can ultimately result in loss of services to the public and reductions in the number of staff members within the departments which provide those services. But they’re now stuck between a rock and a hard place as they wish to keep property taxes as low as possible, but do not wish to reduce services to the public.

What other ways might the city save money? City park properties/green spaces are numerous, with much regular mowing required. Some residents have suggested just letting the grass grow, un-mowed. Others have suggested selecting areas which could be restored into prairie grasses or planted into wild flowers. Whilst all ideas have been provided in an effort to be helpful or assist, none is really practical, as even “un-mowed” properties require maintenance. Noxious weeds and volunteer trees quickly spread in unkempt areas (increasing needed labor long-term) and even prairie grasses must be cut and/or burned on a regular basis to clear the underlying dead crop from previous seasons so that the new may flourish.

Are there other areas to trim (no pun intended)? Perhaps, and your council members are tasked with determining what areas could logically be reduced (without adversely impacting city services too much) versus raising property taxes to pay for increasing expenses.

What about summer ice for 2020? That remains to be seen. It’s on the city council agenda for Monday, June 15, when council members will discuss it and then will likely make a determination.