On his new blog, Guelph Today, former Mercury city hall reporter Scott Tracy wrote earlier this week about a report that said a proposed "bar stool tax" for downtown watering holes would hurt the business of booze and make weekend revellers even more difficult to manage. My question: how can anything hurt the business of booze and make weekend revellers any more difficult to manage?
The idea of a "bar stool tax" has been kicking around for some time. The principle is that the expenditures incurred by the City with policing and cleaning-up of Downtown Guelph every weekend should be taken out of the pockets of the bars making money off the 10,000-plus people who shuffle through the "downtown entertainment district" Thursday through Saturday nights. Fair enough, and past due, many would say. The City has always hedged though. Why? A couple of reasons.
First, the concern is that taxing "downtown bars" will force them to relocate outside of downtown. The police like having all the bars in one place because it makes their job easier, and let's face it, managing the throng really is easier between small borders. So split the difference, make it city wide. Now I know that will dig into the profits of smaller bars or bar/restaurants outside of the core, so maybe it could be means tested by capacity or percentage of food sales to alcohol sales. That way, you get the Stampede Ranch, but leave the Boston Pizza down the street alone.
The second point flummoxes me. Coun. Ian Findlay made the point that a fair portion of the clean-up is associated with food vendors downtown - Subway, Smoke's, Sun Sun's et al - who make sure bar patrons don't go home on an empty stomach. Apparently, these businesses have not been part of the equation in late night plan discussions, and some people are probably of the opinion that they should be. Maybe they should, but I think it's important to ask this question: what prompts the bad behaviour of people: several jugs of beer at Vinyl or a carton of noodles from Sun Sun's? Is downtown a graveyard of half-eaten takeout at 3 pm on Tuesday? I think we know the answer to that one too.
One thing I will point out is that this is not a "university problem." Certainly, the University of Guelph takes some of the burden, but in the end the youth bar scene is not what it once was a decade ago as one-fourth of campus has to stay home (or find a house party) on the weekend now. What I've discovered recently is that there are plenty of people who drop in from out-of-town for our local party scene, and while I fall short of suggesting that we should send invoices to other municipalities for taking their party pains, it should factor into the discussion that Guelph is highly attractive for a lot of people looking for a good time.
On the other hand, despite attempts to re-arrange the game to make the local bar scene easier on our police and clean-up crews, the fact of the matter is that after all this time, it's still a work in progress. Maybe it's the cost of doing business, that is Guelph eating the cost of clean-up. It's as if everybody dines-and-dashes on the cheque leaving the poor waiter to eat the costs for everyone else's good time. It's a quandry that will require a lot of co-operation between the various players involved. Maybe we can all meet at the bar to hash it out...