By Doug Hallett
Coun. Bob Bell hasn’t given up his long fight to get downtown bar owners to shoulder more of the cost of extra policing and cleanup for the late-night bar scene – but he’s changing his tactics.
Council passed a motion Monday to end further study of a bar stool tax, which would impose an extra tax on bars and link the size of the tax to the size of the bar. This means the bar stool tax idea is dead, at least for the current term of council, Bell said Tuesday.
However, he plans to push for a scheme similar to one that’s in effect in Hamilton, where bar owners pay directly for half of the cost of police officers stationed in front of their bars. “That would be just as good as a bar stool tax, and I would hope that is the way it is headed,” Bell said in an interview.
This money from bar owners would go directly to the police department, rather than to city hall. But it could lead to a reduction in police costs charged to the average taxpayer, he said.
While deciding to shelve the bar stool tax idea, council also decided Monday to continue the city’s financial support of the Safe Semester program. For the past two Septembers, as U of G students return to the city, this program has seen several measures put in place, including the night-time closure of parts of streets in the centre of the bar district on weekends.
The first Safe Semester program in 2012 cost about $25,000, according to a recent city staff report. City departments and city police and transit paid all of this cost, except for a $5,000 contribution from the Downtown Guelph Business Association for portable toilets and taxi stand security, the report says.
Bell had wanted the full-year cost of extra policing and cleanup for the late-night bar scene to be included in the Safe Semester report, but it wasn’t. So he proposed Monday that the annual cost of extra policing and extra cleanup be referred to a council committee for further investigation. His amendment won unanimous council support.
Now he plans to propose a scheme similar to the one in Hamilton “as soon as I get the numbers,” he said Tuesday.
Bell provided partial numbers, from Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin, to council on Monday.
Larkin’s memo says $15 million of Guelph Police’s $33-million operating budget for 2013 goes to front-line policing costs. The memo says $243,000 is for staffing costs related to policing the downtown, which doesn’t include equipment and fleet costs.
Additional to the $243,000 is $116,000 to pay for a full-time downtown community resource officer. But Bell said this cost isn’t relevant to the late-night bar scene, as the resource officer works days.
Bell estimates the true cost of extra cleanup and policing related to the nightlife scene, including police equipment and fleet costs, is up to $800,000 annually.
“The level of policing downtown now is adequate,” Bell said. “Nobody steps out of line downtown now. The moment somebody raises their voice now, there are four police officers there within 15 seconds.”
Police are “doing a great job” preventing downtown fights linked to the bar scene, but it is city residents rather bar owners who are paying the cost, said Bell.
By Doug Hallett