Hess Village club owners should be "taking responsibility" and paying into a paid duty police fund to keep the neighbourhoods around the area safe, according to the head of the Durand Neighbourhood Association.
Now that one club owner is taking the city to court in an attempt to strike down its paid-duty police bylaw, the city needs to ensure that policing levels in the downtown Hamilton entertainment district don't dip, says Janice Brown, the president of the Durand Neighbourhood Association (DNA).
"The bars overload the patrons with booze — and then they expect us to pick up the fallout? That's not fair," Brown told CBC Hamilton. "There is obviously a problem for us to get to this situation."
A city bylaw puts the onus on Hess Village club operators to retain at least 10 special duty police officers for the area during its busiest season each year. The owners in Hess pay into a collective fund to hire the officers to the tune of around $180,000 a year — a number some say isn't sustainable.
'We're paying as much as our rent'
So Dean Collett, one of the owners of Sizzle/Koi and Diavolo, has launched a court case to prove the city bylaw isn't lawful.
"The thrust of this action is that our establishments will no longer be treated any differently than any other citizen, personal or corporate, in the city of Hamilton," Collett said in a news release. "There are some of us dealing with paid duty bills that are as much as our rent. Many of the establishments have closed during October and November just so they could avoid paying any paid duty bills."
People need to keep in mind that the economic impact Hess Village has for the city is already substantial, Collett says.
"As a whole, we generate over $200,000 in property taxes, and close to $1.5 million in provincial and federal sales taxes annually," Collett said. "We employ over 500 full and part time workers. Almost all of these workers live in Hamilton, many of whom live in the surrounding community."
Even so, the DNA's members agree that Hess club owners should be paying at least 50 per cent of all the paid duty police fees coming out of Hess Village, Brown says. "They want the added police presence but don't want to pay in," she said.
But Collett says operators do support a strong police presence in Hess Village.
"We understand that being good neighbours is not only good for business, but that it is the right thing to do," he said. "We strongly believe that it is important that all parties continue to work diligently and together in order to foster a co-operative environment to address the challenges we face as a community in Hess Village."
Heading to court
Combined, Collett's Hess Village establishments owe almost $25,000 in back pay for city-mandated paid duty policing fees — and his businesses are just one of several that the city's licencing committee is chasing to collect tens of thousands of dollars in police fees.
If this court case is successful, the money Collett owes will be dropped and a precedent would be set that Hess club owners would no longer be responsible for paid duty costs from now on.
All of the money previously paid out to the paid duty fund by Collett's businesses would also be repaid — an amount that's estimated at around $226,000. That number could grow if other businesses join the suit.
Just where that money would come from if Collett wins is dependent on the court proceedings, says Al Fletcher, the city's acting manager of licensing and permits. "Likely the courts will have to make that decision," he said.
Neither Hamilton police nor the city could give an answer as to who exactly could end up paying the money back if it comes to that. Calls to the city's legal department were not returned and Coun. Jason Farr would not comment on the situation.
"As this is now officially a legal matter, it would be inappropriate for me to respond," Farr said.