MW looks at changes in alcohol ordinance

-A A +A
By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON - A committee appointed to re-evaluate the city's alcoholic beverage license ordinance made an interesting discovery.

Since the ordinance's passage in 2003, the city has not been collecting a monthly regulatory license fee which was established in the ordinance.

According to the ordinance, the fee applies to all retail establishments that have one or more licenses to sell alcoholic beverages. According to the ordinance, the fee is three percent of the establishment's gross receipts from retail alcohol sales.

The committee is made up of council members Greg Gentry, Brent Wheeler, Gary Lawson and Mount Washington Alcoholic Beverage Control Officer Melvin Davis.

City Attorney Anne McAfee recommended that the council should not collect the past fees.

"I don't think they could impose a tax retroactively," McAfee said. "I guess if the city was about to go under it might make more sense, but I would say no."

Gentry, who is chairing the committee, said the panel had no intentions of recommending that back fees be collected.

However, he said the committee would recommend that the city begin collecting the fees at the beginning of 2008. According to the ordinance, the fees go toward the cost of policing, regulatory and/or administrative expenses.

Local restaurant owner Josh Spaulding - who's questions about extending the city's alcohol sales hours contributed to the committee's formation - said the tax would affect him as a business owner.

"I'm definitely going to be paying," Spaulding said. "It's definitely something the council is missing out on."

Davis said establishments carrying an alcohol sales license were provided with a copy of the ordinance, which highlights the license fee. Davis said each business owner, their legal representation and accountants were encouraged to familiarize themselves with it.

However, the city never provided the establishments with a bill or a form to file the tax.

"I know there's some fault on the city's part," Wheeler said. "But I place 80 percent of the fault on the businesses, because they got a copy of the ordinance."

Other issues the committee addressed included alcoholic beverage sale hours and the regulations regarding signs that advertise alcoholic beverages.

During recent committee meetings, members agreed that extending the hours of alcohol sales wouldn't be beneficial to the city. The current cut-off time for alcohol sales in the city is midnight. According to state statutes, patrons have 30 minutes after the cut-off time to finish their drinks.

Committee members also discussed the possibility of removing the sign regulations from the alcoholic beverage ordinances, claiming they should be in the city's separate sign ordinance. Gentry said the sign regulations in the current alcoholic beverage ordinance are unfair, because they allow for stores selling packaged liquor to advertise with signs, but establishments selling liquor-by-the-drink cannot.

The committee will make its recommendations of changes to make to the current alcoholic beverage ordinance at its Nov. 12 meeting.