North Adams skating rink turning corner after recent financial struggles

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NORTH ADAMS — After several years of declining participation and questionable use of resources, officials say the city's skating rink is back on the right track.

The rink's financial struggles over the course of the last several years were flagged in a recently released independent audit of the city's fiscal 2016 finances by independent auditor Scanlon and Associates.

The rink suffered losses of nearly $100,000 in fiscal 2015 and has ended the year in a deficit three of the previous four years, draining its reserves from $125,000 to less than $10,000 in that timespan.

The current fiscal year appears on the same track, though city officials say they've made progress under more stringent oversight by City Administrative Officer Michael Canales and Ted Meranti, the new facilities manager.

The Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink is controlled by the city of North Adams under a long-term lease agreement with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Although run as its own entity, the rink's losses can impact the city's general fund. As fiscal 2016 comes to a close, the rink is not expected to make a $27,500 debt payment that will instead come from the city's free cash reserves.

"Where you're trending with that line is not good, so you really have to look at the operations. If you get into a deficit account here, it's going to affect your general fund," said Tom Scanlon, the city's independent auditor. "It's really something to keep an eye on going forward."

In fiscal 2016, Mayor Richard Alcombright said, the city has revamped its management of the rink. It has significantly reduced staffing levels to cut down on expenses while making investments into rink infrastructure.

'It's been a difficult year of getting it restored, but we're on the right trajectory now," Canales said.

Revenues did not meet expenditures in the current fiscal year because the city invested significant funds into repairing the site, he said.

The largest difference in management has been a sharp reduction to staffing levels, Canales said, which at their peak cost the rink $84,000 a year, but are now expected to only reach about $50,000 annually. Despite the drop in employment, the rink is actually open more hours, Canales said.

"Looking back now, there was no reason for the expenditures to be running nearly $300,000. The first thing we did was change the way we're operating down there as far as our staffing levels," Canales said.

The fiscal 2017 budget appears more promising, according to Canales, as few upgrades and repairs to the rink are anticipated. The administration's proposed fiscal 2017 budget projects the rink's income to hit $216,235 while expenses should fall to $201,000, including the debt payment.

The city saw more ice rentals in the summer this year than it had in the past and hopes for more this year to create additional revenue, Canales said.

Alcombright said the city has instituted stronger cash controls, which include the auditor making spot checks on drawers.

Canales has directly overseen operations at the rink since the city fired its former manager, Darin Lane, in 2015 after an city officials discovered about $2,200 missing from its vault. Lane subsequently admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilt on a charge of larceny over $250 that was continued without a finding and dismissed after he agreed to return the money.

Despite the rink's financial troubles, Alcombright maintained the it remains viable for the city to operate.

"Yes, it's sustainable," Alcombright said. "We're just building up that model and rebuilding it back to what it was. This year has been much, much better."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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