Citing growing crowds and escalating costs, Waterloo’s mayor says it’s time to bring an end to the St. Patrick’s Day street party on Ezra Avenue.

Mayor Dave Jaworsky announced Friday that the city and Waterloo Regional Police were forming a task force comprised of representatives of the city, emergency services and the university community.

The task force has several short-term goals, but the one with the latest deadline might seem like the most challenging: To stop the party within five years.

The party has grown significantly in recent years. Authorities have estimated this year’s peak attendance at 22,400 people – not including anyone who might have been on a porch, in a backyard or inside a house. That number is a 55 per cent increase from the year before. While it is likely attributable in part to a relatively mild afternoon and St. Patrick’s Day falling on a Saturday, officials say they have no way of predicting what will happen to the crowd size in the future if the status quo is maintained.

Direct costs of keeping an eye on a crowd of that size while ensuring emergency services remained accessible for the rest of the community added up to $713,500 for the city, emergency services and the universities. This is the first year that number has been tallied.

“That is an enormous amount of money that could be used to better our community instead,” Jaworsky said.

That $713,500 includes $330,000 in costs to Waterloo Regional Police, about half of which went toward overtime pay for officers. Last year’s policing costs, on a Friday, were around $120,000.

Jaworsky said the growth in the size of the party is largely due to people coming in from outside the city. He said “visitors” outnumbered Waterloo residents at this year’s event.

“These people are not invested in the well-being of our community, and aren’t concerned with the impact their behaviour has on our community,” he said.

To back up his claim, Jaworsky said 86 per cent of provincial offences tickets were given to people who are not Wilfrid Laurier University students. Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin said he was aware of students from 37 different post-secondary institutions who were part of the gathering.

In university and college cities across Ontario, police often go door-to-door before St. Patrick’s Day to talk to students about safe partying. Larkin said officers in other communities reported being told by students that they planned on heading to Waterloo for the day.

While eliminating the party is the ultimate goal of the task force, it has also been given interim goals around reducing the size of the gathering and finding a way to refocus how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in the university district.

Larkin said most of the correspondence he has received from citizens about the event has suggested finding a way to turn it into a publicly sanctioned event, possibly supporting a charitable cause.

Something similar was tried a few years ago, when a sanctioned tent party was held elsewhere in the university district. While the tent was often filled to its 4,000-person capacity, Larkin said it didn’t have the desired effect of replacing the street party on Ezra.

“The reality was (that) they traversed from the tent to the street,” he said.

There were a total of 648 charges laid during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities – nearly as many as on the previous three March 17s combined. About 68 per cent of them were for liquor violations. Criminal and drug-related charges totaled 22, double last year’s figure, and police made 19 arrests, up from three the year before.

Paramedics dealt with 70 patients. Forty-two people were taken to hospital, with 12 of them initially listed in critical condition.

Region of Waterloo EMS chief Stephen Van Valkenburg says the region brought in four extra ambulances, which ensured there was never a situation where there were more emergencies than available ambulances – something which wasn’t the case last year.

With reporting by Nicole Lampa