Farr wants taxpayers to help pay for Hess Village policing costs

Jason Farr wants the city to pay more than half the costs of special policing in Hamilton’s struggling entertainment district. But at least two of his fellow councillors say they’re not sure they’re ready for that yet.
Coun. Jason Farr will move a motion in two weeks for the city to pay 65 per cent of the paid duty costs for Hess Village. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Coun. Jason Farr wants the city to pay more than half the costs of special policing in Hamilton's struggling entertainment district. But at least two of his fellow councillors say they're not sure they're ready for that yet.

Farr will pitch in two weeks that the city pay 65 per cent of the paid duty policing costs for Hess Village, a district where bars and restaurants pay out of pocket for extra policing to deal with rowdy crowds. The exact amount is unknown, but Farr estimates the cost at around $70,000 per year of the roughly $117,000 it costs to police the district in a year.

Hess Village is important to Hamilton, Farr said, and the business owners can't afford it anymore. Crowds are dwindling. Business is slower. The city should help by using money from a reserve for a four-year pilot project, he said. And it should start with the May 24 weekend.

"I'm going to try to bring it back to life," he said of the Hess Village district. "We're just asking for some assistance from council."

The current arrangement, where all Hess Village bars and restaurants pay out of pocket, is an anomaly in Canada, Farr said. "Nobody else does this."

Farr will bring the motion to the May 19 planning committee meeting.

But Coun. Brenda Johnson of Ward 11 and Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 both say it's not that simple for them. They want more information from police, including a look at recent crime trends.

"I'm anxious to hear whether the police feel the same way," said Johnson on the dwindling crowds at Hess Village. 

Volunteers who hold special events in Hamilton, such as the Winona Peach Festival, pay for paid duty officers for their events, she said. "It's like $15,000 a weekend to have people on site to watch people eat their ice cream sundaes, that doesn't come out of (taxpayers') pockets."

Collins, meanwhile, says he has a lot of questions too. If crowds are dwindling at Hess Village, the crime isn't, he said.

"Ten or 15 years ago, it was an area where a lot of office workers would visit for lunch and all the patios were almost to capacity with people in business suits and dresses," he said. "Now it's morphed into a nightclub scene."

But Farr characterizes Hess Village as an important part of Hamilton's entertainment scene. And the policing issue has been a tense subject for about four years, he said.

For example, Dean Collett, one of the owners of Sizzle/Koi and Diavolo, has launched a lawsuit in an attempt to strike down the city's paid duty policing policy, but says the suit has been put on hold in an effort to find a "political solution."

Many Hess Village bar owners have ended up before the city's licensing tribunal in recent years over unpaid paid duty fees, including Social Bar and Nightclub, The Gown and Gavel, Viva, Ceilidh House, Hush, Che and Sizzle/Koi.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

With files from Adam Carter


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