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The View from the Valley

An Exploration into Town-Gown Relations

Borough Council Could Double Drinking Fines

Every Monday the State College Borough Council meets at 7:30pm downtown. It is my hope that students will begin to go to these meetings as the decisions and discussion that takes place often adversely affects more then half of the students here at University Park.

If you read The Daily Collegian you can see the topics that are usually debated at Borough Council, most recently to allow chickens to be considered as pets in the burrow. However, last night there was discussion and movement by members of the Council to not only increase the fines levied upon people who are detained for underage drinkingm, public urination etc, but to double them.

There is a movement to raise these fines from $300 to $600. Now, I will take the high road first. Laws are laws, and there is no doubt that students do dominate the downtown area on weekends, filling it with intoxicated people who are not the permanent face of State College to the townspeople.

Now I ask, what would State College be without Penn State? The reason that there are so many businesses here, the reason that the town is so prosperous is the the students!  Without us here spending our money on tuition, food, and alcohol, the town of State College would not be what it is today.

That being said, is it necessary to hamstring a person for making a mistake in public? Is it possible that the Council is so far removed from that time in their life that they forget what it is like to be in college and have little to no money?

Do they really understand how critical $600 can be in someone’s life who is living not only on a fixed income, but someone who is quite possibly in debt already with loans? A point was argued that, with the increase in fines, there will be a decrease in crimes.

Let’s be honest here, Council. With an increase in fines, there will only be an increase in revenue for you! There is no question that with an increase in fines the Borough will increase its revenue, thereby appearing to be raising new funds when they are really punishing more and more students.

What I want to know is wether the Borough Council is actually concerned about the well being of its residents and students, or are they more concerned with lining their pockets?

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I think the point you are trying to make is that you believe the fine increase to be an unfair attack upon students, aimed solely at their pocketbooks. Understandable, and if you can prove that the Council’s motivation is solely to make money, and not also to offset or decrease the amount of time, money and paperwork spent on processing these citations, then you might have a strong case on your hands. However, this is a poorly composed (and obviously not spell-checked) argument which simply rehashes the same tired plea of entitlement that makes so many State College residents unsympathetic when it comes to students’ “mistakes”.

It would be difficult to prove in the history of State College and Penn State that one ever would have existed without the other. State College would not be here if it weren’t for the students and the University, and the University would not be here if people hadn’t been willing to relocate to the middle of the state to work and establish a University. Neither group deserves any special treatment, light punishments or overlooked laws because of their history here, or their financial contribution. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that many bars and restaurants in this town never make much of a profit, if any at all, and most rely on the huge influx of business during Arts Fest to get them through the year – even more so than football games. Arts Fest, of course, being a State College event, not geared solely to students.

“Mistakes” such as public urination, underage drinking, or public intoxication (usually because you’re drunk and making a scene) are immature acts that are not that hard to avoid. It makes the intelligent college student look stupid when they are busted for it. It makes anyone look stupid. I’m 31 years old and I’ve consumed alcohol excessively many, many times in this town (even before I was 21), and the only time I’ve not been able to find a bathroom is when I’m camping. People urinate in public because they are too drunk and lazy to find a bathroom. Also, many of the people cited for public urination are not students. Many people drinking in the bars are well over 21, and live and work in State College but do not go to school. Those who are students, as well as those who are not, know that public urination is illegal. You know it when you’re sober, and you know it when you’re drunk. No one who does it expects to get fined, but everyone who does it knows it’s a possibility. It’s the senseless risk you take, and the fine comes with the risk. Am I telling you not to sneak behind a dumpster when you feel like you’re not going to make it home? No, but I’m telling you that you know what you’re doing is wrong, there is probably another option, and if you choose to go behind that dumpster, you know what you’re getting yourself in to.

I do not side with the Council on this matter either, not because the increase in fines is unfair to students, but because I don’t believe that fine increases are a good deterrent on their own. I believe that the Borough should be working more closely with bar owners and public transportation services to help deter this kind of behavior and provide alternatives. I believe that more free or low-cost activities should take place throughout the year, downtown and on campus, to provide alcohol-free alternatives. The increased revenue from increased fines should help fund other initiatives that are also aimed at reducing these crimes. This would help the Borough achieve what it hopes to illustrate is the real goal – not increase revenue, but decreased crime.

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