Progress, but concerns over town’s approach to Homecoming 2018
The Antigonish Town Council is optimistic that the town’s investment of $4,000 toward an oncampus event for St. F.X. Homecoming weekend was a step in the right direction, toward mitigating the sometimes chaotic partying and revelry the event can entail, aroundtown.
"We did see a big improvement this year, over last year," Mayor Laurie Boucher said at the town council’s regular Oct. 15 council meeting. Boucher referred to reports from the RCMP and St. Martha’s Hospital indicating they were less busy than the previous year, as proof of that improvement.
"There wasn’t as much damage this year, and there wasn’t as much garbage lying around as last year," Boucher said.
Boucher attributed this year’s less rowdy Homecoming weekend to the mitigation efforts by a working group, that consisted of the Antigonish town and county council members, St. F.X., St. Martha’s Hospital, the RCMP and local landlord’s’ association – a group Boucher commended for "helping lines of communication" between community groups.
This open communication between community groups is what Boucher sees as crucial to keepingthingsmoreorderlyin future Homecoming weekends.
Boucher compared the working group to the partnerships between local organizations that has paved the way for the local skate part to be built on West Street, and the new sidewalk that was just constructed on West Street – things that would be much more difficult to accomplish, she noted, without St. F.X. making financial contributions.
Boucher described the $4,000 the town contributed to the oncampus party as "not a trivial amount, and it’s important to be diligent of where we put every dollar of the taxpayers’ money."
Boucher said the RCMP’S more aggressive approach to dealing with offenses "set the tone" for the weekend, and served as another mitigating factor to the chaotic conditions that previous Homecoming weekends have entailed.
"They were quick to shut parties down, with zero tolerance. Zero tolerance for liquor, noise bylaw [violations], and big parties and gatherings," Boucher said. "Bylaw enforcement officers were good to get out ahead of Homecoming, talking to bigger houses, and to landlords that have multiple units around town."
Boucher acknowledged there were some residents who did not share in the enthusiasm, noting there were comments in traditional and social media, from residents unimpressed with the town’s handling of Homecoming weekend.
"But, I had quite a few phone calls from people encouraging us to keep going in this direction," Boucher said. "They are seeing what we can do together, as partners, rather than what we can do individually."
"Whatever the money figure is, it did seem to have an effect. The amount of drunken nonsense around town was definitely lower than last year," said an Antigonish resident who wished to remain anonymous. "That’s not to say, ‘problem solved,’ as I did see someone on the corner of Main and Hawthorne vomiting all over the sidewalk, and then another person in the bushes 20 feet away."
Boucher emphasized the importance of "keeping focused on the bigger picture," since "this year is a step in the right direction. With those partnerships and communication open, we’re on the right track to mitigate some of the challenges."
It was reported that the Antigonish ARCMP had approximately four times the amount of staff working on the Homecoming weekend than it would on a regular Saturday.
Coun. Diane Roberts asked if this would lead to increased policing costs, with overtime being paid to officers who were on duty during the weekend.
"We don’t ask for extra. It’s under the discretion of the staff sergeant, whether or not he wants to," Boucher said. "It’s up to him, to see the community safe and under control."
"That’s something we should think about," Roberts said, after being informed that overtime costs for local officers were incurred. "There are huge policing costs in town, and every year it goes up."
Boucher said the efforts to mitigate the raucous partying and violations of local bylaws that are often associated with Homecoming were the product of months of planning – starting shortly after Homecoming 2017.