There’s no question that the city of Schenectady should raise the ridiculously low $10 fee it charges businesses to hold block parties. The question is, how much? The answer is: It depends.
Part of downtown’s revival is a lively bar and restaurant scene. Some of these places, such as Pinhead Susan’s, Clinton’s Ditch, Katie O’Byrne’s and Bombers Burrito Bar, occasionally close streets and parking lots for daylong events with outdoor bars and live music. These block parties are fun for customers and lucrative for the businesses. They’re also good for downtown, which is why the city would like to see more of them.
But, rightly, it would also like the businesses to pay more to hold them — at least as much as it costs the city to process the permits, drop off and pick up barriers, do any necessary cleanup, and provide police to keep crowds orderly and safe. That cost is greater in some cases than in others, depending on the size and duration of the party, whether the street is closed off, etc.
The businesses provide their own security, but that doesn’t mean the police aren’t needed around the perimeter with crowds that are drinking and can number in the hundreds. In some cases, they have to direct traffic.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett says that the department generally deploys two police officers who volunteer to work overtime for a minimum of four hours (as the contract requires). Depending on the salary of the officer, that can be anywhere from $50 to $75 per officer. That could amount to as much as $300 per officer for four hours, or $600 for the pair — a bit more than that $10 fee covers.
A flat fee of $200, the low end of what the City Council is considering, seems fair ($1,000, the high end, is simply too much, especially for the smaller parties, and would discourage them.) But $200 wouldn’t pay for the city’s actual cost, according to Deputy Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.
That’s an argument for a sliding fee based on the size of the party and the amount of police presence required. In cases where there have been no problems and the business’s own security is good, perhaps one police officer can handle things. Police headquarters is not far away if help was needed. This could keep the permit fee more affordable.
These, of course, are extras for businesses that already pay taxes to the city for services. But there are entities that don’t pay taxes or for city services, and can afford to. Like Union College, which former Mayor Brian Stratton once calculated costs the city around $500,000 a year for fire and police calls. In refusing to compensate the city for those costs, or making regular in-lieu-of-tax payments, the college is not paying its fair share.