City to revisit liquor ordinance

10/16/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

After a number of liquor store owners raised concerns about penalties included in a proposed city ordinance regarding selling liquor or beer to minors, the Garden City Commission agreed the proposal needs additional fine-tuning.

The top concern from business owners was a penalty for a third offense, which would suspend liquor or beer licenses for a year. For a first offense, licenses would be suspended three days, and for a second offense, licenses would be suspended between three days and a year.

Steve Dyer, Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce president, said a number of businesses have concerns about the severity of the penalties, as well as questions about the city implementing something different than the penalties that state law already has concerning liquor stores.

Dyer said that while the Chamber supports preventing the sale of alcohol to minors, it also thinks ordinances should be reasonable and not so prohibitive on businesses.

"We want to make sure the ordinance and penalties are appropriate," he said. "The suspensions, especially for a year, are going to put some out of business."

Bill Matheson, owner of Sunrise Spirits, said nobody in the liquor business wants to sell to anyone underage because it's not good for business and it's against the law.

Liquor stores already are regulated by the state, which can fine a business $750 and the cashier $270 for selling alcohol to a minor, he said.

"I think the ordinance as it's written is just excessively prohibitive. No business is going to survive having their license jerked for a year. You're just out of business," he said. "For us, anyway, it would mean bankruptcy because we're still under the yolk of a five-year lease, which would march on whether we have a license or not."

Even a week's suspended license would hurt, Matheson said. He estimated it could cost $10,000 to $25,000 gross income, depending on the size of a store and the time of year.

Matheson trains employees to card anyone who looks younger than 30, but even so, mistakes are made.

Deb Fief, owner of Discount Liquor, said she has been in business 10 years and did receive a violation during a recent sting.

"We go to great lengths to make sure we are not in violation. We try to stay in compliance. That being said, we do not encourage minors to partake in alcohol in any form, and I encourage my employees to be very careful," she said.

While Fief is not happy about the recent violation and is addressing what happened so it doesn't happen again, she thinks the penalties in the proposed ordinance go beyond what the business could handle and would put her out of business.

"People think we generate a lot of revenue, but we don't. We just make a living," she said.

Randy Grisell, city attorney, said there was nothing "magic" about the time periods included in the penalties, and nothing used as guidance to come up with them.

"I think it's a reasonable discussion to talk about those periods of time. Certainly, a year's suspension is probably a deal breaker for some businesses," he said.

The ordinance was requested by the Garden City Police Department after a recent compliance operation resulted in 18 businesses being cited for selling to a minor out of 42 businesses approached.

Police Chief James Hawkins said previous stings have resulted in six to 10 violations, but never a number that large.

Hawkins said the intent of the ordinance initially was to address only cereal malt beverage licensed businesses, such as grocery and convenience stores, because liquor stores already are covered under state law.

"We had to throw the term alcohol in it, but it was because there was no recourse for us with vendors of cereal malt beverage ... that sold to minors. The actual seller or clerk would be punished, but the business itself we had no recourse," he said.

Hawkins agreed that the penalties in the proposed ordinance may be a bit excessive, and he would prefer the ordinance address only cereal malt beverage sellers.

"After three times (getting cited), somebody obviously didn't get the message. But I can't see shutting down a business for an entire year," he said.

Under the ordinance, convenience or grocery stores wouldn't be shut down if they were cited, but their ability to sell beer could be suspended for a period of time.

Commissioners agreed the ordinance needs more work. They directed Grisell to make revisions and bring the ordinance back to the Nov. 5 commission meeting.

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