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St. Charles raises fee for 2 a.m. bar closing

ST. CHARLES – Bars that want to stay open until 2 a.m. in St. Charles must soon pay $900 more for that privilege.

The St. Charles City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance that sets the base closing time at midnight and creates late-night permits available to those wishing to stay open until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.

The new rules follow ongoing discussions that started with former Mayor Don DeWitte about over-serving and the rowdy downtown nightlife.

In a Liquor Control Commission meeting before the City Council meeting, Mayor Ray Rogina referenced the council’s split vote in September 2012 that tabled a decision on moving closing time from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Like the council’s decision then, Rogina said, these changes do not force any establishment to close at 1 a.m. But, he said, it does place a premium on the 2 a.m. closers.

“In my mind, this is very fair,” Rogina said.

The base midnight license will cost $1,200, and the 1 a.m. permit will cost an additional $800. Rogina noted both options are less than the existing yearly license fee of $2,600.

The later permit, however, will cost liquor license holders $2,300 on top of the base fee, bringing the total bill to $3,500 – or $900 more than before.

Mark Hoffman, owner of Second Street Tavern, was the sole licensee to speak to the Liquor Control Commission on Tuesday. He characterized the 2 a.m. permit fee as a penalty.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re a value to the community,” he said.

Resident Brian LaVolpe encouraged the commission to explore other solutions, such as a greater police presence and more training requirements for servers. Playing with closing times isn’t the answer, he said.

“You’re not getting to the solution of the problem,” LaVolpe said.

Rogina said the fee structure isn’t set in stone.

“If things don’t change, it might be more,” Rogina said. “There’s no guarantee this proposal is going to work.”

Fifth Ward Alderman Maureen Lewis, who sits on the Liquor Control Commission, said efforts to improve the situation since 2012 haven’t been enough.

“I don’t think we saw the improvements we were looking for,” she said.

Liquor licenses expire annually on April 30, making the changes effective May 1, City Administrator Mark Koenen said.

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