St. Charles liquor policy under fire

Bar representatives complain about cost to stay open until 2 a.m.

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 7:43 a.m. CDT

ST. CHARLES – Dawn Humer of Dawn’s Beach Hut described the late-night permits the St. Charles City Council approved Tuesday as an “excellent idea.”

She likes that merit will factor into the application process but said tiny establishments like hers can’t afford the $900 increase to stay open until 2 a.m.

“You’re throwing extra money on there I can’t afford,” Humer told Mayor Ray Rogina and other city leaders Thursday during a forum specifically for the city’s liquor license holders.

Humer was one of several licensees – many were affiliated with bars – who aired concerns and frustrations about the new policy, which will take effect May 1, the start of the new liquor license year.

The policy 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 base midnight license will cost $1,200 annually, and the 1 a.m. permit will cost an additional $800. 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.

Rogina defended the ordinance Thursday, asserting it gives licensees a variety of options, and it calls for an annual review process.

He stressed city officials, including the police, want to work with license holders to encourage a fun, vibrant, exciting community and to reduce the rowdiness, disrespectful and illegal activity.

“We’re all in this together,” Rogina said. “Let’s have a universal practice of working together.”

License holders, however, said the premium on the 2 a.m. license adds to the 2 percent liquor tax the city implemented in 2010.

“We fight a tough battle. We scrape for pennies a lot of times,” Tom Wojcik of The House Pub said. “You’re taxing us into nothing.”

Steve Baginski of The Beehive Tavern and Grille suggested having a sliding scale for the late-night permit fees so that small businesses such as Dawn’s Beach Hut can afford the latest closing. He noted licensees are trying to effect change but are limited.

“We can’t change what people do,” Baginski said.

Rogina said liquor license holders have a greater responsibility because of the product they sell.

“You’re selling things that change behavior,” he said multiple times.

City Administrator Mark Koenen described Thursday’s meeting as the “beginning of a new start.” He also noted that others – including downtown residents and other business owners – have their own concerns about the nightlife downtown.

“We hear from those folks as well,” Koenen said.

Based on feedback from licensees about wanting over-service defined, city leaders plan to hold another meeting for license holders.

Rogina also noted he plans to propose an amendment Monday that would allow non-2 a.m. permit holders to apply for a 2 a.m. extension four times a year in addition to New Year’s Eve.

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Jan Schlictmann at a Geneva law firm.

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