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State Senator Andy Dinniman has called for a Senate committee hearing to look at West Chester’s alcohol-related problems and consider possible solutions. Dinniman said that after a recent meeting with borough officials he asked the chairman of the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee to hold a field hearing in West Chester.
The committee’s chairman, State Sen. John Rafferty, recently indicated to Senator Dinniman that he supports the idea of holding the hearing in the months ahead.
Dinniman said recent newspaper accounts of West Chester’s alcohol-related concerns only further highlight the need for a hearing. “For far too long, public drunkenness has gone unbridled in the downtown, and residential properties have been vandalized by late night bar-hoppers,” he said. “These problems have been going on for decades. It’s time to come up with a viable, long-term solution for the residents of West Chester and similar communities. It’s time to get something done.”
Dinniman is calling for the hearing because West Chester and similar communities are spending an increasing amount of tax dollars on hiring more police officers, paying more in police overtime, and cleaning up their downtowns. He said that the first task is to show fellow lawmakers in Harrisburg the issues and the families they affect.
“Legislators need to hear from the residents who pay for police overtime and clean-up crews, who are awoken at 2 a.m. every weekend, who trip over beer bottles on their way to Sunday morning services, and whose homes are being damaged by alcohol-fueled vandalism,” Dinniman said. “Lawmakers need to listen to the people who are here because their quality of life is being threatened by precisely this type of behavior.”
Dinniman noted that West Chester’s bars and restaurants sell more than $6 million worth of alcohol a year, according to figures provided in 2005 by Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Chairman Jonathan Newman.
“I’m grateful that Senator Rafferty has been positive to my request for a hearing, and I look forward to his help on solving this crucial question,” Dinniman said.
West Chester Borough Council President H. Paul Fitzpatrick, joined by fellow council members Susan Bayne and Scott Smith, recently met with Dinniman to discuss West Chester’s ongoing alcohol-related problems. Fitzpatrick welcomed lawmakers’ plans to hold a hearing in the borough to address this issue.
“The problem is when the state passed the law letting liquor licenses be transferred within the county, the license holders transferred them to the hub of the county – West Chester,” Fitzpatrick said. “That increased our need for law enforcement. That costs money, and that’s the reason we approached the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Senator Dinniman on this issue.” Dinniman noted that the list of possible solutions includes having West Chester University police patrol not just the campus but also the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Campus police departments have the ability to go off campus but haven’t done so due to liability concerns,” he said. “That’s unfortunate, because I think allowing them to patrol adjoining neighborhoods could make a big difference. The Legislature needs to address this question of liability.”
Dinniman said upcoming hearing would offer a good opportunity to discuss these and any other ideas.