Ice Rink Authority, management, get new marching orders

Norwich – The Ice Rink Authority eliminated the finance manager position in a cost-cutting move Tuesday, but decided to remain open for the summer, approving one new contract with a figure skating group for July and August.

The authority met for two hours Tuesday in a special meeting to address financial difficulties and proposals for turning around the rink's financial health. The meeting was requested by Council President Pro Tempore Francois "Pete" Desaulniers, who was appointed to the authority recently to oversee finances and attempt to make the rink profitable.

Desaulniers said the 2012-13 fiscal year must bring major changes to the financial operations. He assigned responsibility for changes to rink manager Jim Sanca, who was asked to present a management and staffing plan at the June 21 authority meeting.

"The management has to do this," Desaulniers said. "If the management can't perform what the authority wants, then we'll be looking for new management."

The finance manager, Michael Arnone, earned $45,000 per year. Starting July 1, those duties will be taken over by the city finance department, which provides similar service for the Norwich Golf Course Authority.

Authority Chairman Michael Goldblatt said, however, that some accounting duties must be done on-site at the rink and may require part-time help.

Rink officials had considered closing during the slow summer months, but Desaulniers and others opposed that plan, preferring instead to improve advertising outreach to raise awareness that the rink is open. The Norwich rink is the only rink in eastern Connecticut open during the summer, but Goldblatt said that hasn't brought in much business over the years.

The city's demand that the rink overhaul its operations was prompted by an increasing need for city subsidies to cover rink operations. The rink owes the city more than $260,000 in past cash advances, and this year's city budget includes a $54,000 direct operational subsidy. Another $27,000 subsidy to the rink is included in new fiscal year budget starting July 1.

Desaulniers presented a plan delineating the expected duties of both management and the authority that he said have been ignored over the years.

Rink management must run day-to-day operations, submit an annual budget that covers operations, deal with vendors at the pro shop and concession stand and provide daily, weekly and monthly ice availability schedules. The rink manager must be the contact person for skating groups interested in using the rink and must present proposed contracts to the authority.

The authority is to establish policies, approve the annual budget and now must provide quarterly financial and operational reports to the City Council for the first time.
Also for the first time, the authority must provide guidance and training to rink staff on marketing, advertising and customer relations.

"I'm happy the way it went last night," Desaulniers said. "Now it's just a matter of putting everything together and hopefully it happens."


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