Martha’s Vineyard Arena cuts rink manager to cut deficit

Longtime arena director Kurt Mundt, seen here in this 2010 photo, was laid off in a cost-cutting move. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Facing rising operating costs and declining use, the Martha’s Vineyard Arena has laid off longtime arena director Kurt Mundt, leaving the rink with only one full-time employee. The 15-member volunteer board has assumed responsibility for day to day operations, including accounting, booking ice time, cleaning, and maintenance.

Jim Kelleher, president of the board of directors, confirmed the details of the change when contacted by The Times Wednesday. The arena board made no formal announcement of the layoffs.

“We are financially very strapped,” Mr. Kelleher said in a phone interview with The Times. “The cost to operate the place has gone up, with utilities, and we are badly in need of a new roof. We had to cut back.”

Scott Lively, vice-president of the board, said the arena ran a deficit of approximately $50,000 in its previous fiscal year, on a projected budget of approximately $450,000. He said the organization expects to run a deficit again this year, but the board won’t know the extent of the loss until it closes the arena books at the end of June.

Mr. Kelleher and Mr. Lively declined to detail how much the organization spends on employee salaries and benefits.

The directors said increases in the cost of electricity, used to cool the rink and maintain the ice surface, as well as increases in the cost of propane, used to dehumidify the building, have put a strain on the operating budget.

“We burn close to $100,000 in electricity per year,” Mr. Lively said.

The largest source of revenue for the arena are charitable donations, anchored by its annual August fundraiser, Ice Savours. That event raised $151,000 last summer, according to Mr. Lively. The arena also gets income from fees for ice time and from sponsors who buy advertising signs inside the building.

The board officers said the 40-year-old building is in dire need of a new, insulated roof, estimated to cost $400,000. He said the organization has raised about two-thirds of the money necessary. The directors say they hope to add a snack bar, which could generate revenue from the sale of food and rental fees, as a place for birthday parties and social gatherings, according to the organization’s most recent newsletter. Most of the fundraising efforts, which normally pay for a large part of the operating costs, will be dedicated to the roof and other building maintenance.

“We can’t wait any more,” Mr. Kelleher said. “Once we get the roof done, and that capital expenditure is behind us, that money will go to personnel.”

The directors said the rink has kept the cost of ice time low, among the lowest rates in the region. While grants have helped youth hockey leagues grow in the past year, figure skating and other programs are not as popular as they were in the past. Tight school athletic budgets for off-Island high school teams that once regularly traveled to the Island, have also affected revenue.

“Where it used to be a busy rink, with the recession, towns don’t particularly want to come here on the weekend,” Mr. Lively said.

Mr. Kelleher said the cost-cutting moves have not affected any programs at the arena.

The 26th annual ice show, presented by the Martha’s Vineyard Figure Skating Club, is scheduled for Sunday, April 6. After that, the arena will close for the season,and reopen in mid-July.

The directors said the financial strain has been tough on the arena staff and volunteers.

“Nobody wants to see somebody out of work,” Mr. Kelleher said. “It’s tough. We’ve got to turn this ship around. Everybody is rolling up their sleeves. We’re doing everything we can to get this place solvent. I think in another year, we’ll be in good shape.”

Mr. Mundt did not respond to a phone message asking for comment.