South Side seeking monitors for night
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Weary of longtime problems in the entertainment district, a South Side group wants the city to put parking enforcement officers and building inspectors on late-night duty in the neighborhood each weekend and fund the manpower with some of the $410,000 in licensing fees annually provided by the state Liquor Control Board.
The South Side Community Council also wants the city to use licensing fees to pay for Councilman Bruce Kraus' proposed study of the neighborhood's hospitality industry. Mr. Kraus said the study would help provide solutions to problems ranging from drunken driving to illegal parking and vandalism.
Like many other municipalities, the city puts licensing fees into its general fund, though the LCB recommends that the money be used for law-enforcement initiatives that promote responsible drinking.
"The city is essentially ignoring the recommendation," Tom Kolano, a 20-year neighborhood resident and the community council's public-safety chairman, said.
Mr. Kolano said neighborhood residents need extra city services, including building inspectors and parking enforcement officers, during the nightclubs' busy periods late Friday and Saturday nights. Building inspectors generally work daylight, weekday hours, while parking officers generally work until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Mr. Kraus and Paul Lorincy, president of South Side Local Development Co., said they support the community council's proposed use of licensing fees.
"I just don't really believe it's going to occur," Mr. Lorincy said.
The $410,000 in licensing fees are generated by bars, restaurants and other alcohol-related businesses citywide, not just those on the South Side, noted Joanna Doven, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman.
Citywide needs dictate scheduling of building inspectors, Ms. Doven said, adding that other neighborhoods with bars and restaurants also might like to have dedicated nighttime inspectors. Building inspectors generally work daylight, weekday hours but are assigned to other shifts "as needed," she said.
More than 17,000 bars, restaurants, nightclubs and beer distributors statewide annually pay licensing fees ranging from $125 to $700, based on the type of license and the host municipality's population. The LCB keeps $100 of each licensing fee and remits the rest to municipalities, agency spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said.
In all, the LCB remitted $4.6 million to municipalities this year. While the LCB recommends that the licensing fees be used for alcohol-related law enforcement, municipalities have the authority to use the money as they see fit, and many put it in their general funds, Ms. Kriedeman said.
Because police services consume large portions of their budgets, some municipalities say the licensing fees indirectly are used to enforce responsible drinking.
LCB chief Joe Conti said he has "great faith" that municipal officials use the money appropriately and noted that only the Legislature can force municipalities to spend it in certain ways.
Still, he said, he's "very sensitive" to the South Side's problems. "I've been there," he said.
Philadelphia gets the biggest chunk -- more than $1.1 million -- of the licensing fees remitted each year. The money goes into the general fund, Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, said.
With nearly $410,000, Pittsburgh receives the second-largest share. Mr. Kolano said the money should fund services in various neighborhoods with alcohol establishments, with the number of liquor licenses the key factor in apportioning the money.
South Side residents long have blamed illegal parking, litter, noise, public urination and other problems on patrons of East Carson Street nightclubs. A spate of violent crime -- including a Dec. 4 fatal accident blamed on a drunken driver and an Oct. 23 shooting at Zen Social Club in Station Square -- has heightened concerns.
Police estimated that 700 people were present at the time of the shooting, though the club's occupancy limit is 265. Mr. Kolano said residents suspect other bars and nightclubs also exceed occupancy limits.
He called on the city to put building inspectors on the job Friday and Saturday nights to enforce occupancy limits in the entertainment district. Citing illegal parking on residential streets off of East Carson, Mr. Kolano also called on the city parking authority to deploy enforcement officers until 3 a.m. on weekends.
Mr. Kolano said the licensing fees are supposed to fund such services. But the financially strapped city has a different view of how to use revenue and juggle services to dozens of neighborhoods.
Ms. Doven said the South Side has received extra city resources, such as recycling receptacles and police blitzes targeting illegal parking. If nightclubs pose a safety risk, she added, they're subject to the nuisance property task force that's now reviewing Zen Social Club's future.
"We have tools that we utilize to resolve any problems on a daily basis," Ms. Doven said.
Parking enforcement officers generally work until 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the South Side and other neighborhoods. They provided enforcement until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday from June 1 to Sept. 21, when city council reverted to a 6 p.m. cutoff of overtime parking enforcement amid a dispute with the mayor and parking authority over use of meter proceeds.
At Mr. Kraus' request, council passed a 2011 budget that included $100,000 for a hospitality study and about $38,000 for a nighttime building inspector. However, citing financial reasons and other priorities, Mr. Ravenstahl's office didn't launch the study or fill the inspector's job, Ms. Doven said.
South Side civic leaders are exploring the possible creation of a Neighborhood Improvement District that would assess property owners a fee and use the money to supplement city services. Mr. Kolano said property owners object to the concept, believing they should be getting more for the taxes they already pay.
First Published November 14, 2011 12:00 am