On Monday, council approved a request to provide the Dawson Creek Rage Society with $102,500 to cover a payment to the North American Hockey League as per the team's franchising agreement. The payment represents a travel subsidy paid to other teams, which was to be paid on Jan. 31, 2011. The team had tried to negotiate with the league to waive the payment, but was unsuccessful.
Councillors expressed hesitation in granting the request after the they already approved a grant to the team above what the city's initial commitment to the team was.
"There's nobody who is a bigger hockey fan than I am, but I am not at all happy with this," said councillor Terry McFayden. "As recently as the end of May we had a meeting where we approved their business plan and their financing for this upcoming season, and here we are six weeks later and they are back for another $100,000."
Councillors Sue Kenny and Bud Powell said they were also concerned, but felt the investment was needed in order to keep the EnCana Events Centre's anchor tenant viable.
"Like any business case, there's a lot of money up front before you see the result," said Kenny.
Mayor Mike Bernier said the success of the hockey franchise is critical to the success of the events centre because it generates revenue and pays facility costs that otherwise be borne by taxpayers.
"If we didn't have an anchor tenant, the taxpayers of Dawson Creek would have to subsidize the facility even more."
He added council believes a Junior A hockey team is still the best option for a regular tenant in the facility.
"We looked for quite a few years at our options for an anchor tenant, and we struggled to get to the point where we even got the Rage. Right now, if we don't have the Dawson Creek Rage, there are no other opportunities that we're aware of. There's really not too much out there that would work for a community like ours other than a Junior A franchise."
When Dawson Creek was first awarded an NAHL franchise back in 2009, city council committed $625,000 over three years to help the team with start-up costs. Earlier this year, while city staff and the team's board of directors finalized a business plan for the Rage, council approved an additional $100,000 over the original commitment for a total allocation of $350,000 in this year's budget. This latest investment brings that total to just over $450,000, and the additional funding will have to be found by reallocating other items within the city's recreational budget.
Bernier said it is important to note the latest amount approved is not a grant but an investment, meaning the team is obligated to pay the amount back to the city proportionate to any repayment made to the team's other investors. To date, the directors of the Dawson Creek Rage Society have invested $412,815.
The mayor added the investments come on the condition that chief administrative officer Jim Chute and chief financial officer Shelly Woolfe are involved in making financial decisions for the team.
"If we're going to be invested in this to make sure we have the team, we want to be able to have a bit more control and say on what happens there," he said. "We're not just writing cheques to a not-for-profit group to have a hockey team, we want to make sure we're a part of the decisions to make it as financially viable as possible."
Bernier said he was impressed by the on-ice product in the team's inaugural season, and believes fans have much to look forward in the upcoming season. He said what is left for the city and the team to do to make it financially-sustainable is to get more fans in the seats.
"It's how we market and have a production for the hockey games that will be excited about and come out for. That's the challenge now. If we can put enough people out there for the games, then the money that will be generated will offset the money that has been put in."