Costly last call

Penticton reviews 400 per cent increase for fees to extend bar closure times

  • Mar. 8, 2012 6:00 p.m.
General manager Steven Parker behind the bar at The Mule night club this week. The downtown business could be facing huge increases in costs related to policing for its proposed late-night openings this year.

General manager Steven Parker behind the bar at The Mule night club this week. The downtown business could be facing huge increases in costs related to policing for its proposed late-night openings this year.

How much does hosting a late night on the town cost?

For The Mule’s general manager Steven Parker, he hopes the answer won’t be 400 per cent more than what they paid in 2011.

Parker made a presentation to council Monday inviting the City of Penticton, RCMP and liquor licensing officials who are reviewing costs associated with policing late-night closures to consider the ramifications of boosting application fees to $24,000 a year from $4,500.

“It’s a 400 per cent increase in what we’ve been used to paying for,” he said, adding The Mule would simply have to abandon the application with such a fee. “We’ve never had any communication that it’s an issue. So it’s a surprise to us.”

For 2012, The Mule requested 16 dates for extended hours from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m., primarily on holiday weekends or those with special events in town: April 7, 13 and 14; May 19; June 29 and 30; Aug. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 31; Sept. 1; Oct. 27; Dec. 22 and 26.

According to building and permitting manager Ken Kunka’s report to council, the Penticton RCMP detachment uses a formula of $100 per hour to calculate the costs associated with late-night openings. Those are billed back to licensed establishments that apply, and work out to $300 per late-night evening.

But the RCMP contend there is an uptick in caseloads during those “special event” weekends, and the later hours conflict with predetermined weekend shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. In a Penticton RCMP report tracking 2010 data, weekends with 2 a.m. bar closure times result in an average of 25 files throughout the city, but those with 4 a.m. closures have seen a 44 per cent increase to 36 files. The report also found that files increase in the downtown core and north beach areas on Fridays with 167 per cent increases (the average of six files going up to 16 files).

Providing additional officers to handle the additional caseloads was projected to be in the range of $1,600 an evening — which would cost an establishment like The Mule $24,000 per year.

But Barb Haynes, Downtown Penticton Association executive director, told council Monday that they have been closely tracking police incidents in the area to gauge the problem. When they looked at calls in the downtown area between 2 and 4 a.m. — the hours in question allegedly posing a problem — they found only seven could be directly attributed to The Mule for the entire year.

“Not all the calls can be attributed to a late-night opening,” she said, adding the 4 a.m. closures are also offered on long weekends, which generate more parties and liquor consumption by tourists and residents alike.

The city’s review was triggered earlier this year by a letter from Lakeside Resort and Casino management, which called on Penticton to abandon the 4 a.m. openings because the hotel found its patrons were damaging suites and creating too much noise during those late nights.

Haynes said the association also polled the Ramada and Coast Penticton Hotel for their sentiments. Both preferred 4 a.m. closures, she said, because their patrons were more likely to go directly to sleep, rather than return to their rooms at 2 a.m. and continue to party as they disturb neighbouring guests.

Parker said The Mule outlined for council the numerous measures they’ve taken over the years to boost security. He said bar and security staff co-operate with the police, offering up indoor or outdoor video surveillance footage from the eight cameras on site, and learning how to identify patrons who have had enough is a key part of training.

“In these trying times, or any time for that matter, it never makes sense for The Mule to over-serve our customers,” he said, noting the Liquor Licensing Board’s fines and penalties are stiffer than any profit to be derived from another round of drinks.

The later openings, he added, help The Mule expand to not only 40 seasonal staff in the summer, but maintain the 25 staff members throughout the slow winter months.

Haynes said boosting fees is a “double-edged sword,” adding that council needs to recognize The Mule is the last business of its kind in Penticton. “Part of this discussion needs to include the business. At the very least, it needs to be a two-way discussion.”

Saying the presentation “is quite at odds with the information we’ve been given,” Coun. Garry Litke suggested council permit the first April opening to 3 a.m. for $300, with a review to come on the fees after a consultation meeting is held with RCMP. The move to 3 a.m. closures was defeated.

Coun. Helena Konanz threw her support behind The Mule also, suggesting that as the last dance club in town, council should listen to its needs. “He feels that’s how he can make a living.”

Mayor Dan Ashton said the system is set up to protect taxpayers from policing costs. “I concur that your establishment is doing a good job, but the costs have to be borne by that business,” he said to Parker.

Coun. Andrew Jakubeit said it was a “philosophical discussion” between the need for safety, the costs associated with policing and developing an environment in which business can flourish. “To me, it’s a cost of doing business in a tourist town,” he said, “of course, $1,600 is also unrealistic.”

Coun. John Vassilaki defended the 4 a.m. closures, noting how critical that industry is to Penticton. “Tourists, they come to Penticton to enjoy their stay while on holidays,” he said, noting the fees were too high. “Sixteen hundred dollars for two hours? It’s unethical.”

Vassilaki moved they allow a 4 a.m. opening for the initial weekend at the $300 fee level, to be adjusted after a consultation meeting and set at “a reasonable price.” Council approved that motion, with only Litke opposed.