Sunday, April 11, 2010
New hands likely to take over Milton rink, but whose?
Senate, House members disagree

Change is coming to the state-owned Max Ulin Memorial Rink in Milton, says the town’s state senator.
The Senate last month passed a bill sponsored by Senator Brian A. Joyce allowing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to lease the popular rink to the town of Milton. The legislation has yet to clear the House of Representatives.
Joyce, who favors letting a professional company take over the facility with supervision by the town, said either way, change is inevitable.
“No change is no longer an option,’’ he said, adding that, if the bill fails to pass the House, the Patrick administration would move forward with a shorter-range plan for the rink that does not require legislative approval.
“The rink has grown into a wasting asset,’’ said Joyce, a Democrat. “Right now there is no incentive to keep it up, whereas with professional management there would be desires to keep it up to increase revenue and decrease costs.’’
If the House doesn’t act, said Joyce, the Patrick administration would let a nonstate entity operate the rink on a five-year permit, offering Milton the right of first refusal.
The administration’s plan would save tax dollars and provide more inexpensive ice time, said Joyce — although he feels his longer-term proposal would provide greater financial benefits to his town.
Under Joyce’s legislation, the state would lease the rink to Milton for 25 years at $1 per year. The town could run the facility itself or with the help of a private operator, said the senator. In a letter to town officials and residents, Joyce said that the current annual operating loss for the rink is roughly $334,000, and that money is not being set aside for “necessary and inevitable capital repairs and improvements.’’
His bill would result in state taxpayer savings of roughly $12.5 million over a 25-year span and could bring Milton an estimated $2.25 million in new revenue over that period, he said. Additionally, Joyce said, the rink would become a year-round facility that would have an abundance of low-cost ice time available for both Milton High School and the town’s youth hockey programs.
Joyce said FMC Ice Sports, a Pembroke-based company that operates 25 public skating rinks in the state, supports his financial projections. According to Joyce, FMC has stated that if it ran the Milton rink, 5 percent of all gross revenues would be paid to the town with a guaranteed minimum of $50,000 per year and the potential to exceed $100,000. An additional 5 percent of revenue would also be put aside each year for repairs and improvements, he said.
Ulin is one of five ice rinks for which the Department of Conservation and Recreation is seeking outside management, according to the department. It says that of the 43 ice rinks it owns, only 14 are operated by the agency itself.
“Engaging outside entities to operate DCR rinks makes enormous sense, particularly in these difficult economic times,’’ said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. in a press release.
John Shields, chairman of Milton’s Board of Selectmen, agrees that a 25-year lease to the town at $1 per year would be immensely beneficial.
“You’re getting a $5 million facility for just a dollar per year,’’ said Shields, adding that Joyce’s plan was much more beneficial to the town than the alternative move the Patrick administration could impose. “Most of the times this kind of plan has been brought up in the past, the plans have not been beneficial for the town. But Senator Joyce’s plan is different.’’
Shields said selectmen have been given a deadline of June 1 by the state’s inspector general to decide whether the rink will be run by the town or by a private entity.
Some in Milton are opposed to having a private company manage the facility.
“I am vehemently against the privatization of the rink, and would like to see it run by the town of Milton,’’ said state Representative Walter Timilty, who has also attempted to pass legislation seeking a lease for the rink since 2003. The Milton Democrat said he fears consequences such as more expensive ice time if a private company runs the rink.
“We should let the town make its own decisions. I think the town is capable of running the rink, if it is managed properly,’’ said Timilty. “In the House, there is a sentiment that public assets like the Ulin rink should not become private and should be protected.’’
Joyce, whose bill has gone further than Timilty’s and has been passed by the Senate every year since 2003, said he understands why some people, including legislators, may be resistant to the idea of changing the management of the rink. But he said the move ultimately would have significant financial and recreational benefits for the town.
“Most folks would prefer to leave something the way it is and are resistant to change,’’ said Joyce, a parent of five hockey players. “However, I have a fiduciary obligation to the state and town taxpayers, who will be benefiting from this. The children will also be getting a better product in the skating rink as well.’’
Andrew Clark can be reached at [email protected]