The St. Charles City Council unanimously adopted broad revisions to the liquor code that officials say will give the city and bar owners more options in addressing the very concerns that drove the changes.
The council met Tuesday this week after canceling its typically scheduled Monday meeting for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
The council approval of the revisions comes more than a year after the city, reacting to a spike in street brawls, public drunkenness and other issues related to what city officials said was a result of over-serving alcohol to patrons, threatened to impose a citywide 1 a.m. closing time.
The code revisions, however, Mayor Raymond Rogina said earlier Tuesday during a meeting of the St. Charles Liquor Control Commission, present both the city and the tavern owners with a variety of options.
Those options include the ability to remain open later, although bar owners will pay a premium for doing so. The revisions add to the city’s options as well for leverage to regulate establishments that are not keeping tight reins on their own operations. That, he said, will help the city “to create a safe, enjoyable environment” throughout St. Charles.
Key Elements of Revision
Beginning May 1, all new Class B and C liquor licenses and renewed liquor licenses will come with a mandated midnight closing time, which has been 2 a.m. for several years.
At the same time, the cost of most Class B and C liquor licenses will be cut from $2,600 to just $1,200 a year. That’s a $1,400 reduction in most Class B and C license fees.
But the code revisions allow the option for bar owners to stay open later — if they purchase a late-night permit. The permit gives the city of penalizing an establishment should it fail to meet criteria that range from timely payment of city fees and taxes to meeting city safety and building codes to patterns of problems such as serving alcohol to those younger than 21, to over-service of alcohol to patrons.
Violators run the risk of having their permit revoked even while maintaining their liquor license — meaning violators would have to close at midnight from the time of revocation moving forward.
The list of criteria also gives the city added leverage during the annual renewal of the late-night permits — an establishment that has had a poor track record over the course of the year might not be able to get its late-night permit renewed.
As structured, there are two types of late-night permits. A bar wanting to remain open until 1 a.m. would pay $800, Rogina said. When combined with the liquor license cost, the bar or restaurant owner’s total cost would come to $2,000, which remains $600 lower than the 2013 cost of a liquor license.
A second late-night permit would be available for establishments wanting to remain open until 2 a.m., but the permit fee comes at a premium: $2,300. That, combined with the liquor license fee, puts the establishment’s total cost at $3,500, which is $900 more than the cost of a liquor license in 2013.
During the Liquor Control Commission meeting late Tuesday afternoon, Rogina discussed the reasons the changes had been pursued. One change made earlier this year, he noted, was the establishment of a liquor commission as an advisory body to the mayor — who by statute is the city’s liquor commissioner — and the City Council.
The commission began formulating its recommendations for liquor code revisions during a series of public meetings over the summer and into the fall.
Rogina said the purpose of establishing the commission was to ensure a broader range of voices are heard in the process than that of just one liquor commissioner, which has been the case n the city’s past. That, he said, ensures that policy is not dictated by just one individual.
That’s also why he pursued the idea of late-night permits — the give the City Council greater flexibility via an annual review of those permits. Rogina has said an applicant may qualify legally for a liquor license, but the privilege of staying open later can be revoked or not renewed under conditions that do not rise to the level at which the city might revoke a liquor license.
“The goal is to encourage cooperation … to create a safe, enjoyable environment,” in downtown St. Charles and the rest of the city, he said during the liquor commission meeting.
During that meeting, he also rebuffed editorial criticisms that the code revisions are anti-business, saying they actually are pro-business because one of the goals is to end problems that are plaguing other businesses and by “trying to provide a safe, enjoyable environment” that will draw even more visitors to St. Charles.
Rogina: We Appreciate Bars
During the liquor commission meeting, Mark Hoffman, owner of Second Street Tavern, 22 2nd St., questioned the higher cost of a 2 a.m. permit and liquor license compared to the alternative, where fees are being reduced. He also asked if the city is willing to consider eliminating the 2 percent alcoholic beverage tax instituted several years ago. The city at that time changed the closing time for bars to 2 a.m. in recognition of the tax impact on liquor license holders.
City Administrator Mark Koenen said the elimination of the tax is not an option in the current budget, but that city officials could begin discussing the idea now for consideration during the next budget cycle.
Hoffman also told the commission there is a feeling among liquor license holders that their business is not valued or appreciated by the city, particularly in light of the alcohol tax coupled with the new increased cost of keeping a bar open until 2 a.m.
“... It seems we are not valued by the community … yet we provide jobs, we pay taxes … It’s a feeling that a lot of us have, me in particular,” Hoffman told the commission. “I think that, as I talk to other bar owners, that they don’t get the sense that they are a valued part of the community.”
“The City Council and the liquor commissioners respect you as much as any other business owner in the community … we want you to succeed,” Rogina said.
Hoffman asked Rogina to convey that to the owners. The mayor said he would do so Thursday afternoon, when he meets with liquor license holders to discuss the revised liquor code.
More Changes Possible
Rogina also pitched to liquor commissioners a proposal he may bring before the City Council as early as next month.
His plan would create another permit that bars could obtain to stay open later on special occasions — such as a wedding reception or birthday celebration.
Rogina said the idea is along the lines of the one late-night exemption for all bars in town — the liquor code revision allows most Class B and C license holders to remain open on New Year’s Eve until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
The New Year’s Eve exemption was cited in a conversation Rogina said he had with one bar owner who said he usually closes at 1 a.m. now, even though he could stay open until 2. That bar owner, Rogina said, indicated there are special occasions when he does keep his establishment open until 2 a.m., but that the infrequency of those occasions would not warrant his purchase of a 2 a.m. permit.
So Rogina suggested to commissioners the idea of allowing a limited number of one-night late-night permits for liquor license holders.