State Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman told a legislative hearing on nighttime vandalism in Pennsylvania college towns that he hoped that a future sales tax on alcoholic drinks would pay more police patrols in streets, restaurants and bars.
"We are committed to taking some action," Dinniman said, chairing a session of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee at the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester on Wednesday .
Dinniman said he hoped that a state bill not yet written would include a 10-percent tax on each drink sold.
That money should not only pay for more patrols by local police, he said, but give "police more power" to help the state Liquor Control Board, whose enforcement arm is thinly staffed and underfunded.
Dinniman noted that one of the few ways to pay for more police now is by raising homeowners' real estate tax.
It would be unfair if "the people being woken up at 3 in the morning have to pay for the privilege of being woken up."
In downtown West Chester, several witnesses told the hearing, the nightlife has blossomed while the quality of life for residents and store owners has withered.
West Chester Police Chief Scott L. Bohn told Dinniman that in his borough "minor quality-of-life" offenses increased 19 percent in 2006 compared with 2005.
During the last five years, Bohn said, open-bottle violations have increased 345 percent, public drunkenness arrests 71 percent, noise-ordinance violations 67 percent, disorderly-conduct arrests 53 percent, DUI arrests 45 percent and liquor-law arrests 36 percent.
Bohn said that while "the number of eating establishments in our community has grown from 25 in the year 2000 to 55 in 2006," the borough police force has added only two officers in the last seven years.
"Tumbleweeds were blowing down Gay Street," when he arrived in West Chester, Kevin Finn joked.
Finn, president of the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant chain with six locations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, said when he opened at Gay and High Streets eight years ago, "the downtown business district was struggling."
Now that nightlife is humming, "the borough has moved away from being a restaurant destination and has become more of a bar destination," Finn said.
The problems are a few liquor license holders he didn't name "who cannot or will not manage their restaurants properly."
Finn opposed a drink tax, arguing that it will make West Chester less competitive than other places in the county.
But he proposed, among other things, cutting off discounted drinks after 9 p.m.; increasing licensing fees for all establishments that serve alcohol, including private clubs; and limiting two students to any rental property.
In an interview before the hearing, Finn said "just giving money to police - which I'm in favor of - isn't going to solve the problem. You need to get the university involved and you need to get the landlords who rent to students involved."
Madeleine Wing Adler, president of West Chester University, said she supported a 10-percent drink tax.
And she urged the state legislators to give police the authority to do the jobs of the Liquor Control Board, to penalize "bar owners who serve underage drinkers or allow customers to drink to excess."
But Adler noted that 84 percent of all citations for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and noise in the borough were issued to people other than West Chester University students in 2006.
"Although you might conclude that these other young people are friends of University students," she said she knew of no data supporting that idea.
Ari Tuckman, a psychologist who lives on Walnut Street south of Market Street, recalled a night last month when he and his wife were awakened at 2 a.m., "hearing someone screaming belligerently, 'You want a . . . piece of me?' "
They didn't get out of bed, he said, because "it happened pretty much every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night."
Based on his clinical experience, he told the hearing, "this can be the first step towards greater problems with alcoholism, addiction and antisocial behavior - costs to society that we will all have to pay for in one way or another."