City councillors vote to scrap extra police fees for Hess Village bar owners
6 bars pay a combined $55K for extra police on weekend nights
Hamilton city councillors want to eliminate extra policing fees for Hess Village bar owners.
For years, bars along the entertainment strip have been paying thousands extra each year for police to patrol during rowdy weekend nights.
On Tuesday, city council's planning committee voted 7-2 to get rid of the area's official entertainment district designation, in the process scrapping the paid duty policing bill for six bars.
Those in favour of scrapping the fee called it an unfair tax, saying that Hamilton Police Service should have been shouldering the cost — about $55,000 this year — in its budget.
Those opposed said the district still has problems. Supt. Will Mason told councillors there are still a lot of drunken brawls, sexual assaults and other issues. On a warm June night, officers counted about 2,200 people there.
Once the city scraps the fee, said Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10, it will be too hard to implement it again. "I'm really concerned about what could happen going forward," said Pearson, who ultimately voted in favour.
Aidan Johnson of Ward 1 also worried about the impact on nearby Strathcona neighbourhood.
But others said it unfairly punishes businesses.
Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor, said the paid duty costs date back to a time when late-night entertainment was limited to Hess Village. Now the whole downtown is bustling.
"I am not suggesting there are not challenges," he said. "But there are other ways to address these challenges. And that's what we do everywhere else in the city, folks."
The costs have been contentious. Several Hess Village businesses have appeared before the city's licensing tribunal for not paying the fee. In 2013, a group of business owners took the city to court.
Dean Collett, co-owner of Sizzle and Koi, said Thursday's vote was "long overdue."
"The bills were huge and frankly unfair," he said. "The city has grown. Night life in the city is busy everywhere."
City council still has to ratify the vote on Sept. 27.
Who was in favour of eliminating the fee:
Doug Conley (9), Matthew Green (3), Robert Pasuta (14), Maria Pearson (10), Jason Farr (2), Chad Collins (5), Donna Skelly (7).
Aidan Johnson (1), Brenda Johnson (11).