CH council approves amended liquor ordinance
The Columbia Heights City Council on Nov. 26 unanimously adopted a second reading related to liquor license violations.
A first reading was reviewed by the council during its Nov. 13 meeting. Community Development Director Scott Clark said there have been several liquor violations (selling alcohol to minors) over the past couple years.
The amended ordinance includes an administrative penalty matrix. Currently, liquor violations are handled criminally by citing the server or seller with a gross misdemeanor. The license holder is not penalized unless staff brings the license holder to the City Council for a hearing, Clark said.
City staff recommends a $250 administrative fine for the first violation and increased fines for following violations. Currently, the owner of an establishment does not have any monetary penalty invested when a violation occurs.
Through a voluntary best practices program, license holders will become best-practices licensees, and less severe penalties will be administered for this extra effort to minimize violations.
Councilmember Bruce Nawrocki asked if the amended ordinance would apply to the city’s two liquor stores.
City Attorney Jim Hoeft said the city liquor stores would still be subject to the ordinance.
Nawrocki again questioned the fairness of the amended ordinance, asking if the owner would be subject to two fines if they were the one to sell alcohol to a minor. Hoeft confirmed that would be the case.
Councilmember Tami Diehm said the updated violation policy for liquor licenses implements a more consistent model for all businesses to be treated the same, and leniency will be given to establishments that sign up for the best practices program.
Councilmember Donna Schmitt asked Clark if he had heard from any businesses regarding the amended ordinance.
A letter was sent to the 14 people who have liquor licenses in Columbia Heights, and no one contacted city staff, Clark said.
He told the council he thinks liquor owners will like the amended ordinance because it establishes a systematic and equitable system that better outlines what the rules are.
The ordinance will take effect 30 days after its adoption.
– Councilmember Bruce Nawrocki said he appreciates being re-elected to the council for another four-year term. He said he will continue to work to have more openness in city government and will work for reductions in the property tax levy. He added that there are a lot of things that could be done to reduce items in the budget.