You don't mess with ice rinks in Madison.
One of the money saving measures proposed by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in the 2010 operating budget was to discontinue maintenance at some of the city's 10 ice rinks, for a savings of $38,000.
In the mayor's blog, he suggested the rinks could be maintained by getting residents "to adopt a rink" and do the maintenance themselves. He wrote, "This works very well in my own neighborhood, where neighbors around Hillington Green have maintained a rink for the last several years."
But, several alders have balked at the idea. Eight of them -- Satya Rhodes-Conway, Chris Schmidt, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Mark Clear, Michael Schumacher, Marsha Rummel, Joe Clausius and Mike Verveer -- sponsored a budget amendment to return the $38,000 to the budget.
"We've been inundated with emails from constituents who enjoy these rinks and want to see them maintained," says Rhodes-Conway. "Fundamentally, it's a response from a request from our constituents."
Clear says the "idea is to keep maintenance for this coming season at the same level as previous years. And look for some potential savings next season, with the help of some neighborhood groups."
Bill Provencher has been skating at the public rinks with his sons since he moved here in 1990. He says there are lots of problems having volunteers maintain the rinks. For one thing, most of the rinks are much bigger than Hillington Green. And even there, only a couple of dedicated neighbors do most of the maintenance work, he says.
"These other rinks are probably five to 10 times the size of the Hillington Green," says Provencher, who has been on the city's Ad Hoc Ice Maintenance Committee to look for cheaper ways to maintain the rinks. "You can't assume you're going to get volunteers to do it."
He fears that the city's Parks Department's "only strategy with respect with ice rinks has been to cut rinks. That's all they do. They've never bothered to look around and say 'are there alternative structures that would make this work?'"
Another skating advocate, Stephen Webster, says ice rinks are vital to the city. "It's a way of experiencing community," he says. "It's a way of looking at winter as an opportunity rather than something to be endured."
Rhodes-Conway says that although she wants the funding restored this year that "the mayor is on to something with the idea of reaching out to neighborhood groups to help maintain them... But the feeling was that we ought to get that in place before we take the funding away."
She says that the parks department is looking for ways to maintain the rinks that use less water. "We turn the tap on and we keep it on all winter," she says. "I'm hopeful we'll be able to save money on the rinks just on that alone."
But the volunteer approach worries Provencher. He says he's explored how other cities maintain their rinks and found none that were maintained by volunteers. "I wish rather than jumping in that direction, the city would explore how other cities do things," he says. "We're still heading to this fantasy land where volunteers are going to maintain the rinks without some sort of quid pro quo."