For weeks, the Erie County Clerk has been suggesting a change in the county's closing time for bars. Chris Jacobs now has a supporter in the Erie County Legislature willing to sponsor the proposal.
Republican legislator Ted Morton has introduced a resolution asking the New York State Liquor Authority to move Erie County's closing time, currently at 4 a.m., up to 2 a.m.
"Assuming it passes, it goes right to the State Liquor Authority for them to investigate," said Morton. "We are the only upstate county left at four o'clock, so we're hoping that it goes through smoothly."
Morton says at first, he had no opinion about a changed closing time, but began to support it after having numerous conversations with constituents.
Jacobs began pushing for the 2 a.m. closing time earlier this year, citing research that suggests public safety improves if the establishments close earlier in the overnight hours. Not just on the roads but in general. When asked about the potential loss of sales tax revenue from two hours of lost business each night, Jacobs spoke of the cost savings in regards to public safety.
"The amount of calls that we get here, and in particular right now in Allentown, the amount of double-staffing that has to go on, the amount of overtime that has to go on," Jacobs said. "We're talking about sales tax revenue, we're also talking about the amount of tax dollars that are depleted to deal with the disproportionate issues that happen in those very late night hours."
Jacobs' studies have come under question, though. Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo, who was not present, previously told WBFO that an earlier closing time may actually increase the concentration of drunk drivers on Erie County roadways at closing time. He also cited numbers from Stop DWI that indicate Erie County already has a relatively safe record compared to other counties statewide, ranking among the lower third of counties in terms of DWI fatalities.
There is also the question of whether a changed closing time might harm other businesses that benefit from the late-night bar crowd. WBFO contacted the corporate offices of Jim's SteakOut, which has numerous locations throughout the county and are known to stay open up to 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. depending on the location.
WBFO was advised that the authorized spokesperson for the company was on vacation until next week and unavailable to comment.
Throwing his support behind the resolution is Amherst Deputy Town Supervisor and Republican candidate for the Legislature's 5th District, Guy Marlette. While admitting he's not much of a drinker, Marlette sees the changed closing time as a quality-of-life matter, one that needs to be discussed.
"We should have that conversation. We should make rational decisions, based on input from the residents within Erie County, within the legislative district and also residents that are stakeholders in this, bar owners, restaurant owners," Marlette said.