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Marshall extends MAHA hockey agreement

Ice time fees sticking point for contract discussion

MARSHALL — This week, the Marshall City Council voted to extend an existing agreement with the Marshall Amateur Hockey Association for ice time fees and concessions arrangements.

However, some council members said they didn’t agree with one part of the extension: that the ice rental rates MAHA pays will stay the same for the next four years.

“I think we talked in 2019 about increasing very minimally to help the city offset some of our costs,” council member Russ Labat said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

MAHA President Josh Johnson said discussions of a new memorandum of understanding between MAHA and the city of Marshall had been put on hold last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are currently operating with no agreement, but we are operating under good faith at this time,” Johnson said. Any new agreement approved by the council would be retroactive to September, he said.

City staff said MAHA had approached the city about sharing the cost of a new ice resurfacing machine in exchange for extending their current agreement for ice time rates and food service.

Under the proposed extension, MAHA would pay a rate of $70 an hour for the first 450 hours of ice time, and then $50 an hour after that. Those rates would stay the same up through the 2024-25 school year. Starting in the 2025-26 school year, the city and MAHA would renegotiate a four-year extension of the agreement, with a maximum rental rate of $75 an hour for the first 450 hours and $55 an hour after that.

At the city council meeting, Johnson also gave an overview of MAHA’s membership and fees. This year, MAHA has 196 registered athletes, Johnson said. The organization has been able to keep registration costs stable since 2017. Current bantam registration costs are $400 plus sales of $375 in “puck bucks.” In comparison, hockey associations in New Ulm-Sleepy Eye, Litchfield and Hutchinson had registration costs of more than $1,000, he said.

Johnson said MAHA also awards about 10 to 15 scholarships a year, and offers 8 to 10 payment plans for athletes a year.

Some of MAHA’s future goals include expanding community ice sheets at Marshall city parks, and helping meet equipment needs for hockey players. In the long term, MAHA is planning to have additional storage space, to invest in scholarship programs, and to expand ice time at the Red Baron Arena for hockey camps, clinics and leagues.

“I cannot, and I don’t think any member of the council can find any fault with the passion or dedication or commitment with MAHA,” Labat said.

But at the same time, Labat said he had a hard time understanding why the ice time fees in the proposed MOU had not increased to help keep up with rising costs for the city.

“I think we need a minimal increase, and maybe not this year because of COVID last year. But I would like to see even a $5 an hour increase over the course of the contract.”

Mayor Bob Byrnes said one factor that wasn’t brought up in Johnson’s presentation was that operating costs of the Red Baron Arena and Expo were supported by Marshall’s prepared food and beverage sales tax.

“I’m not going to disagree with that. But again, if you raise your price a little bit every year, it’s better than raising it a whole bunch in five years,” Labat said.

Marshall City Administrator Sharon Hanson and council member Craig Schafer said increasing the hourly rate for ice time could increase costs for MAHA and lead to increases in membership fees. Higher fees could make it harder for area families to register to play hockey, they said.

Schafer said as far as he knew the food and beverage sales tax was doing well to support operations of the arena.

“My proposition is, if at some point in time that fails, we probably need to sit back down with MAHA and revisit it. But right now, why are we whipping a winning horse?” Schafer said.

Council member John DeCramer also spoke in favor of the proposed MOU.

“I don’t see this as a profit-and-loss thing, that we need to try and make a profit,” DeCramer said. “I see that we’ve got a community that’s either going to share in the expense of what we’ve got in the arena, or we’re going to try and put it on the hockey community that’s in here. And I would prefer to see it shared.”

Council members voted 5-2 in favor of the MOU for ice time, concessions and sharing the cost of a new ice resurfacing machine. Council members Labat and James Lozinski cast the votes against.

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