ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — You could say the great tailgate debate of 2020 is still ongoing for Orchard Park Town leaders. They've been mulling this over for a while.
But one Town Board member feels it's time to make a decision at their next regular meeting on August 19. That's especially important in his view since the Bills are scheduled at this point to open their season with a home game against the New York Jets about a month from now on September 13.
Preseason games were canceled this year.
At this point, the state is not allowing any fans in the stands or in the parking lots adjacent to the stadium.
Councilman Conor Flynn sent 2 On Your Side an email, noting that after hearing from residents and business people and state and county officials, he is recommending that tailgating should be allowed to go on in private residential and commercial lots surrounding the Bills complex during the upcoming season.
He says that applies if all appropriate measures are taken in following government guidelines to prevent COVID -19 from spreading. Flynn says several local restaurants and bars have requested permission to set up tents on their properties.
Councilman Flynn told 2 On Your Side "The feeling I got that was based on those conversations is that these owners understand the issues with this pandemic, and they're gonna work to make sure they comply with all the state and county health guidelines that are in place."
Flynn adds that just like reopening requirements, they would also have to submit business plans to explain their prevention policies and setup for social distancing.
He also says they must make sure that only residents from states determined to be safe by New York state could be allowed in.
That may seem a tall order, but he feels they can carry it out also without any police intervention.
"I am confident that we are not going to need the additional police presence. I am confident that these businesses to be able to keep a hold on things and keep their patrons and the community safe. You know there is risk. It is a part of life but it's about managing risks," he said.
Flynn says they must also protect and help small businesses such as these restaurants who employ town residents, provide vibrancy, and pay property taxes.
Councilman Gene Majchrzak says he is willing to go along with tailgating for now but with a quote "short leash" to revoke any permit if there is a problem.
The dissenting note came from Supervisor Patrick Keem, who has told 2 On Your Side before that he fears that more people coming into the community could cause more infections which could spread to the town's significant population of senior citizens.
On Thursday, he was even more emphatic when told of Flynn's comments.
"Until we get certainty from the Bills that they would allow fans in the stadium, I do not favor tailgating," Keem said. "I'm concerned about COVID. It's still here, and we saw 38 cases in Eden the other day so, and I don't want tailgating to be a super-spreader. But if the Bills allow fans in the stadium, then I would revisit this."
Keem also spoke again about the issue with town police. It's estimated that the town must cover about $10,000 in police costs for every home game.
"Also, I do not want to spend money on police overtime, and I don't want our police exposed to the possibility of contracting COVID from having to do their job or show up at a tailgate. So until the Bills allow fans in the stadium I will not favor commercial permits for tailgating," Keem said.
In addition, Keem says he would try to "discourage" tailgating in private residential parking lots.