Published June 17. 2012 4:00AM
There has been quite a bit written about the Norwich ice rink of late. I admit, unapologetically, that I am a 54-year-old "Rink Rat" and have been playing hockey two to three times per week at The Rink since it opened in 1995. My comments are colored by the enjoyment this facility has brought me, but I think it is fair to say that I speak for hundreds of other players of all ages, male and female, who are just like me.
For us, The Rink is a huge part of both our recreational and social lives. We believe that just like parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and any number or other public entities that residents of Norwich and its surrounding neighbors enjoy, The Rink should continue to exist whether it is "profitable" or not. With more than 2,000 visits per week, The Rink not only enhances the lives of those who use it, but also helps to fuel the local economy by bringing visitors from out of town into the area.
However, I also understand that in difficult economic times all expenditures need to be scrutinized and The Rink, despite our emotional attachment to it, is no exception. It is in that vein that I make these comments. While the old saying goes "numbers don't lie," the fact is that exactly how the numbers are applied and evaluated, in any fiscal or accounting scheme, can change the overall picture dramatically.
In the case of The Rink, since it came into existence in 1995, it has been charged by Norwich Public Utilities (NPU) at the commercial rate for electricity (which private industry and manufacturing pays) rather than at the "EGC" rate that other public entities in the city are charged. This was brought to the city's attention in 2006 but it was not until this year that it was agreed that an adjustment should be made. The result is that in the past year The Rink is entitled to more than a $3,700 refund for electricity cost. However, at this point NPU has only agreed to go back one year. This situation has existed for many years and the potential overcharge is substantial.
In addition to this is the fact that NPU, through its charter with the city, pays back 10 percent of the income it derives from the sale of electricity into the city's General Fund. Thus, in a given year, if the rink pays $120,000 for electricity (which is not unusual) to NPU, $12,000 of that is paid back into the General Fund. However, this is not a "number" that is considered in an accounting of The Rink's expenses and profit. I have been told by rink management that, since the time The Rink opened, some years have been profitable and some not. But if you are to take into consideration the overcharge for electricity, in combination with what NPU pays back to the General Fund, The Rink's economic picture is far more positive than it appears in an accounting ledger.
I have been around long enough to see many of the kids who were in the youth programs when The Rink first opened grow up, play in high school, go on to college and junior programs and now come back to play in adult leagues and coach the younger kids. It is that full-circle continuity that makes a community strong and vibrant and attracts others to it.
For many of us The Rink has been a big part of this community for many years. While The Rink needs to practice fiscal responsibility just like all other public entities, it is important to look at the overall picture, not just profitability, but also what The Rink adds to the social fabric of the entire southeastern Connecticut region.