City councillors vote to scrap extra police fees for Hess Village bar owners

Hess Village bar owners pay thousands extra each year for police to patrol during rowdy weekend nights. Now Hamilton city councillors have taken the first step toward scrapping that.

6 bars pay a combined $55K for extra police on weekend nights

Hamilton city councillors voted to scrap the paid duty policing costs for Hess Village bar owners. But city council still has to cast a final vote. (Adam Carter/CBC)

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).

Opposed:

Aidan Johnson (1), Brenda Johnson (11).

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca