By Doug Hallett
The recurring issue of whether downtown bar owners should pay for problems linked to the late-night bar scene is back on the table at city hall – sort of.
Council voted 9-4 in favour of a watered-down version of a motion from Coun. Bob Bell, who has been campaigning for years for a special levy on downtown bar owners.
The amended motion that was approved seeks a summary of the costs and the benefits associated with the late-night bar scene, and for broad input into this city staff report.
“We are doing considerably more than we were four years ago” to control the late-night scene, Bell told council Monday.
He said that four years ago, when council decided not to pursue the issue, extra costs were estimated at about $174,000 annually – $125,000 for policing and $49,000 for cleanup services by city staff. But now, he said, the city is doing more and spending more on controlling the late-night scene.
The city is currently engaged in a five-week pilot project that includes closing sections of two downtown streets late at night on weekends, with extra enforcement efforts by city police and city bylaw officials.
Bell was corrected when he mistakenly said the city’s cost includes the expense of the special buses that take students back to the U of G late at night. In fact, the cost of this Magic Bus shuttle is fully paid by the university’s Central Student Association, council was told.
Coun. Gloria Kovach said Bell’s motion is timely, given the challenges faced by city staff in paring down the city’s 2013 draft budget. “It’s one more tool we can add to our discussions in budgeting,” she said.
However, Coun. Lise Burcher said the city shouldn’t “jump to punitive cost scenarios” without fully understanding progress that has been made in dealing with the bar scene.
Coun. Ian Findlay, who’s been a member of the Downtown Nightlife Task Force for five years, said elevated taxes for downtown bar owners could prompt some of them to move elsewhere in the city. And police say it’s cheaper to deal with late-night bar action when it’s concentrated in one area, namely the downtown, he said.
Imposing an extra tax on downtown bar owners would jeopardize relationships the city have built with them, said Mayor Karen Farbridge.
“The bar owners are at the table, and my concern is that by going down this path we are going to send them scattering,” she said.
Voting against the motion were Burcher, Farbridge, Findlay and Coun. Maggie Laidlaw.
When it’s ready, the staff report sought by council will first go to a council committee and will then come to council.