The students have returned to Iowa City, and local bars are back in business. But the bars could be facing a bigger fine if they are too popular. The city council unanimously approved the first reading of a plan to raise the over-occupancy fine to 750-dollars.

Fire Marshal Roger Jensen says most bars haven’t paid much attention to occupancy rules for more than a decade, even though he says the rules are important. Jensen says, “It’s for life safety purposes that those numbers are established and that we’re out there to enforce.”

Jensen says the rules are designed to prevent a disaster. Jensen says, “If bars become overcrowded, we certainly have the possibility for unfortunate events.” Bar owners want the council to wait a little longer before asking the fire department to enforce occupancy to give them time to find ways to increase their occupancy rates.

Bar manager Tom Lenoc says some of the occupancy numbers don’t make sense. Lenoc says, “The safety concern is a legitimate concern. But, some of these bars have capacity set so low based on their toilets…where there’s room to do cartwheels…and there’s not a safety issue involved at all. That’s what I don’t understand.”

Several bars have already started charging cover fees to help compensate for fewer customers. Now, it’s up to the council to decide if and when overcrowding rules should get tougher. The fine increase proposal must pass two more readings before it becomes official. Bar owners have asked the council to begin more strict enforcement in February.