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HL City Council decides municipal liquor store on-sale will close Jan. 1
Oct. 27, 2014

By Tara Mathews
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, MN – Howard Lake City Council adopted a resolution at its meeting Tuesday to cease on-sale operations at the Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store, effective Jan.1, 2015.

The liquor store commission met and heard money-saving suggestions from Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store manager Myra Laway.

Although acknowledging Laway had good suggestions, the liquor store commission decided to recommend closure of the on-sale operations, according to Mayor Pete Zimmerman.

The on-sale portion of the business has incurred losses that will total $400,000 by the end of this year, despite Laway’s efforts to increase profit.

“All of Myra’s valiant efforts, her cost-saving, and attempts to increase business – it just isn’t working,” Zimmerman said.

About 15 visitors attended the meeting, most in support of continuing on-sale operations.

Visitors questioned if changing prices or cutting back would help decrease the continued financial loss.

“Council looked at the numbers over, and over, and over,” council member Tom Kutz noted.

Projections estimate an additional $5,000 loss above last year’s loss, according to City Administrator Jennifer Nash.

Council member Mike Mitchell questioned if the bond payment and food service contract were considered by the liquor commission before it recommended closing the liquor store.

“Including the bond payment and the money owed toward the food service contract, the loss incurred will still be less by ceasing operations,” Zimmerman stated.

Many visitors began commenting on the issue at once, and Zimmerman reminded them that during council discussion, the council members need to be able to hear each other and asked that visitors refrain from commenting at that time.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of that building being a bar, it’s just not going to be city-operated,” Zimmerman said.

The city will welcome a private party interested in leasing the on-sale portion of the building, he added.

A visitor inquired about the city approving liquor licenses to two other bars, and commented that the liquor store may have made profit if the council had not approved the other liquor licenses.

“We can’t deny a liquor license to another entity to ensure the profitability of our own bar,” Zimmerman commented.

“We think it’s unfortunate, especially for the people here supporting the on-sale,” council member Al Munson said. “But I don’t know how tax-payers would want to continue supporting it, and I know a lot of them don’t.”

For the bar to begin showing a profit, prices would have to be increased by 50 percent, according to analysis done by Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates.

“I feel just as bad about it as all of you do, but the numbers don’t lie,” Kutz commented.

City administrator contract approved

Council approved a contract with Jennifer Nash for its city administrator position.

Jennifer Nash has served as the interim city administrator since August.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• heard a Wright County Area Transit update from Munson. A contract is being drafted which will include Wright County in a transportation agreement between Trailblazer Transit and Sibley and McLeod counties.

Minnesota Department of Transportation has set aside six new buses for Trailblazer Transit for 2015, most of which are for Wright County operations, he added.

• approved moving forward with negotiations to refinance bonds.

The negotiations will include the bonds 2006A, 2008A, and 2008B; and could potentially save the city $140,000.

There was a resolution included to allow the mayor and city administrator to sign the purchase agreement if the savings is more than $125,000 at the time of sale.

The bond refinancing amount is $2,085,000 and includes outstanding principal from previous bonds and issuance cost.

• rescheduled its November council meeting for Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.

Council will have its canvassing meeting at the same time.

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