SARATOGA SPRINGS Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen is reviving and revising his proposal to trim the last call at bars back from 4 a.m.
This time, Mathiesen is imploring colleagues on the City Council and the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to prevent businesses from selling alcohol past 3 a.m. In calling for the change, he cited the effectiveness of legislation in neighboring Warren County and Essex County to the north, which has limited bars from operating after 2 a.m.
"The change has resulted in an improvement in the number of calls to the police department late night and on weekends," he told the council this week. "They've seen a dramatic improvement since they brought this about."
Mathiesen is also looking to codify a decibel level for outdoor musical acts, so that downtown operations putting on bands and other live performances can be monitored with equipment the city now owns. He said many other municipalities have similar regulations on the books and the Spa City could easily identify some common parameters in their laws so that they can be written into the existing noise ordinance.
"There will be some guidelines they'll have to follow so they won't be bothering residential neighborhoods and some of the surrounding businesses," he said.
Mathiesen intends to bring both items back to the council later this month. The issue of limiting the hours of operation for bars would also need to be approved by the county supervisors—something that doesn't appear likely at this point.
Board Chairman Paul Sausville said he's willing to hear any new argument Mathiesen has in support of changing closing time, such as concrete evidence that it has reduced crime or police overtime in other municipalities. Convincing the other supervisors, however, won't be easy since the board hasn't changed much since its Legislative and Research Committee handily shot down the measure to create a 3 a.m. last call in 2012.
In rejecting the city's call for an earlier closing time, the supervisors on the committee essentially indicated a fundamental belief that the decision should rest with business owners. The only one of six committee members to support moving the measure to the full board was Joanne Yepsen, who now serves as mayor of Saratoga Springs.
"Not much has changed in terms of the county board composition," Sausville said. "If there's some new data or new statistics that show public safety or that there's some public benefit, we'll be willing to listen."
Mathiesen's main argument seems to rest with the success in other counties, which he didn't detail during the council meeting. He also mentioned that the earlier last call in Glens Falls, bars in neighboring South Glens Falls could start seeing a migration of the problems from Warren County.
"With downtown [Glens Falls] and downtown South Glens Falls so close together, I would think the board of supervisors might look upon this as something that would make sense to avoid problems in that part of the county," he said.
South Glens Falls Police Chief Kevin Judd said he's seen no evidence of bar patrons venturing into his jurisdiction to avoid the stricter closing times. Of course, he said the village only has one actual bar and most of its other establishments close long before 2 a.m., when Glens Falls stops serving alcohol.
"We haven't noticed any change over here," he said.
Mathiesen also faces an uphill battle making a case to business owners in the city's bar district. Will Pouch, the owner of Esperanto on Caroline Street, isn't convinced the problems Mathiesen seeks to curtail wouldn't simply follow the earlier last call.
Pouch said Esperanto, a restaurant catering to the late-night crowd, probably wouldn't be impacted by a 3 a.m. last call. Yet he's concerned the measure would be a first step in pushing the hour back to 2 a.m., which would cut into his bottom line.
"It's a slippery slope," he said.
Gaffeney's Restaurant Owner John Baker said Mathiesen push for an earlier closing time is well-intentioned, but ignores the reality of downtown's late-night business. While there are occasionally problems, he said bar owners operating late have also made a concerted effort to work with police to help quickly identify unruly patrons and prevent other bars from serving them.
For instance, Baker said the bars now have a text message group that allows them quickly send out a description of a problem customer to other businesses and police. He said changing the bar hours and even policing the noise from downtown businesses will only serve to limit an economic engine for the city.
"You don't mess with success," he said.