LAFAYETTE — City-Parish Council members are poised to revisit the contentious issue of funding the police detail that patrols downtown to keep the weekend bar crowds in check.
The council on Tuesday voted unanimously against a proposal that would have raised the monthly fees that downtown bars pay to help fund the special police detail, which costs about $544,000 a year.
The increase that the council voted down would have raised the total annual amount assessed to downtown bars from $264,188 to $271,942 — fees meant to cover about half of the cost of the downtown detail.
Several council members said the vote signals a desire to bring more scrutiny to the downtown issue, although opinions are mixed on how much bars should pay for the heightened police presence and what obligations the Lafayette Police Department has downtown.
Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who represents the downtown area, said he will seek to repeal the security fees charged to downtown bar owners or to replace the current fee system with a $2,500-per-year flat fee.
Sixteen downtown establishments are now assessed fees ranging from $183 a month up to $4,870 a month, depending on capacity.
“I don’t support the bar levy, period,” Shelvin said. “I don’t think businesses should have to pay for public security.”
Shelvin could find support from Councilman William Theriot, who said he has always questioned whether city-parish government should single out one group of business owners to pay a special fee for what is generally considered a public service.
“I never supported the levies on the bars,” Theriot said.
Taking a different tack in the debate are Councilman Jay Castille and Council Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux, both of whom questioned the amount of money that city-parish government has been spending on downtown police patrols.
Boudreaux said he would rather see some of that money redirected to other areas of the city with crime issues.
“I still have a desire to get them out of downtown,” Boudreaux said of the special police detail.
Boudreaux said he voted against adjusting the bar security fees on Tuesday because he wants to reignite discussions on how the Police Department deals with the downtown issue.
“I would like for them to keep what they have until we can revisit the big picture,” Boudreaux said.
Castille said he believes that bar owners, not city-parish government, should be responsible for maintaining order among the large nighttime crowds that descend on downtown.
“I’m tired of funneling money to something we shouldn’t be responsible for,” Castille said. “If they (bar owners) want it, they should pay for it. It’s your business. Control your patrons.”
The Police Department has been providing the special downtown detail for several years.
The cost of those patrols has grown with the crowds along Jefferson Street, and the council in 2009 imposed the monthly security fee on downtown bars to supplement the cost of the security detail.
While the downtown security issue is re-emerging, city-parish government is also trying to collect from bars that have not paid the fees.
About $70,000 is past due this year, according to figures from City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley.
Stanley was not able to immediately provide the names of delinquent bars on Wednesday afternoon, but he said city-parish government is moving forward with a collection process that could ultimately result in a suspension of business licenses.
The penalty for one missed payment can bring a suspension for three days, and three missed payments within a year can result in a year-long suspension.
Some bar owners have complained of the fees and said they would pay for more of their own security if the fees were not so steep.
Police Chief Jim Craft has said that he has had to focus so many resources on downtown because bar owners have neglected to provide adequate security on their own.