Feb. 5, 2007

Liquor takes center stage

Council mulls over various liquor licenses and rules; Wright Co. Sheriff Miller is on hand to answer questions

By Lynda Jensen

Liquor, along with its various rules and regulations, took center stage at a workshop conducted by Cokato City Council last Monday.

Wright County Sheriff Gary Miller also attended the meeting, along with licensee hopefuls, to ask and answer questions.

City Attorney Ron Batty identified 13 areas of decision-making for the council to make in the next several weeks, pertaining from everything to hours of operation for establishments, to the location of such businesses in proximity to such entities as churches or schools.

There are four different kinds of off-sale licenses, which pertain to establishments that sell liquor on a cash-and-carry basis, and about 13 licenses that pertain to on-sale, which requires the patron to consume liquor on the premises (such as a bar or restaurant).

Two businesses are interested in obtaining licenses, Cenex for an off-sale license, and a possible new owner of the former Finish Line bar located on Millard Avenue, who is interested in an on-sale license.

Representatives were both present at the meeting to ask questions.

It was noted that on-sale licenses approved by Cokato don’t cover Sundays, such as if a restaurant wanted to open its doors, because this wasn’t included on the petition or ballot.

Sunday liquor would take a special ballot, asking voters once again about liquor, but this time pertaining to Sunday sales, to approve this idea.

Interestingly enough, if the city ever approved Sunday liquor sales in the past, despite being dry for years, it can go forth with Sunday licenses, Batty noted.

Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester confirmed that the city hasn’t ever approved Sunday sales.

The council kept its options open, asking Batty numerous questions.

Areas for decisions

The following are the 13 areas discussed:

• Hours of operation. The state prohibits sale hours between 2 and 8 a.m. for on sale. For off sale, the state prohibits sale before 8 a.m., after 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and sale Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and after 8 p.m. Christmas Eve.

The city can further limit hours for both establishments beyond the state limits.

• Types of licenses/permits. There are four kinds for off sale: intoxicating, 3.2 malt liquor, temporary wine, and brew pub.

For on sale, Batty highlighted 13 out of 15 licenses: intoxicating, intoxicating club, Sunday intoxicating, combination on/off sale, temporary intoxicating, wine bed and breakfast, 3.2 malt liquor, temporary 3.2 malt liquor, consumption and display (set ups), one-day consumption and display, theater, strong beer, culinary classes, and brew pub.

The city can limit the types of licenses granted.

• Number of on-sale licenses. The City of Cokato can issue up to five on-sale licenses, but may wish to restrict this to fewer than that.

• Number of off-sale licenses. There are no limits to off-sale licenses, unless the city owns its own liquor store. In this case, the city can’t issue others off-sale licenses (except to veterans clubs), unless the city voters approve a split liquor by a ballot question.

• Location of businesses. The city can dictate how close an establishment can be to such places as churches, schools, or public buildings. Liquor licenses may not be issued to businesses that are located in certain state-owned facilities.

• Nudity. Although the First Amendment liberally allows for this subject, when it comes to liquor establishments, the city has the power to pull a license that displays nudity, “if such restrictions are carefully tailored to stay within constitutional limitations,” according to Batty. This can be built into the liquor license language.

• Additional prohibitions. The city can impose additional restrictions on liquor businesses, such as prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in public, or legal gambling (pulltabs).

• Fees. State law dictates that no more than $100 per license may be charged for off sale, and no more than $200 for Sunday sales. There are no limits to on-sale license fees or 3.2 malt liquor (both on or off sale).

• Insurance. State law requires a license applicant to show financial responsibility, which is typically done by providing proof of liability insurance, $50,000 bodily injury, $10,000 property damage, $50,000 loss of means of support by one person, $100,000 loss of means of support by two or more persons.

• Municipal liquor store. A city can choose to establish its own liquor store, which may sell on or off sale, or both.

Once a city establishes its own store, it precludes the city from issuing private liquor licenses (except to veterans clubs) unless the city voters approve split liquor by a ballot question.

The council made it clear that it has no interest in a municipal liquor store.

• Combination licenses. A city may issue a combination of licenses as one license, instead of each separately.

• Application. Cities must use the license application prescribed by the state, but may ask for additional information.

• License conditions. Some ordinances place conditions on the license such as requiring servers to receive training on selling or serving liquor, allowing peace officers to enter, displaying liquor, etc.

The council will review all this information over the next several weeks. Mayor Bruce Johnson noted that the residents waited 70-some years to approve liquor and that another two months won’t impede this situation.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council discussed its special assessment policy, although it made no decisions since it was a workshop meeting.

The council also disagreed with township officials over the wording of an agreement to transfer right of way for a portion of 53rd Street. This will be discussed at its next meeting.

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