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Should different types of establishments pay different prices for liquor licenses?

Should different types of establishments pay different prices for liquor licenses?

Members of the Rochester City Council spent a portion of their Monday study session discussing potential revisions to liquor license fees.

As we reported in January, the city is considering a series of changes aimed at improving public safety downtown during the late-night hours.

Part of the strategy is to raise licensing fees for establishments that serve alcohol on-site. City officials say an additional $205,000 would be used for bolstering support for the police department, while another $112,000 would help the clerk’s office better administer the licensing program.

“We feel like there is a lot of opportunity to improve our approach to the administration and enforcement of our liquor licensing program,” said Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish.

Currently, Rochester has a set fee of $3,200 for a liquor license — well below that of comparable Minnesota cities. In Duluth, for instance, the average annual fee is $4,317; in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the cost to establishments is two to three times higher than here.

What makes Rochester even more of an outlier is that it charges a single flat fee, no matter the category or size of business. Many other cities have tiers based on square footage, hours of operation, or type of entertainment (i.e. a night club versus a coffee shop with acoustic music).

Ward 1’s Patrick Keane said he would like to see Rochester adopt a fee structure with a range of costs for the varying types of establishments.

“I would not be in support of saying, we have a couple of these problems downtown and any place in the city trying to establish a restaurant is going to help offset those costs,” said Council Member Keane.

Several others on the council also expressed support for a tiered structure, though there was no clear consensus on which criteria would work best.

One idea council members were lukewarm toward was that of punishing particular establishments that generate the highest volume of activity.

Ward 4’s Mark Bilderback said downtown is different than other parts of the city in how many consumers go from place to place. The last thing the city would want to do, he said, is penalize businesses for reporting incidents.

“We don’t want to start punishing the establishments for making a call to try to get the police there before a problem starts, versus after,” said Bilderback, whose ward includes downtown.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin did not weigh on how the city should assess fees, though he did stress the importance of having additional resources to monitor late-night activity.

The additional resources, Franklin said, will have a broader impact than just what happens downtown. It will also prevent officers from having to leave their districts to respond to an incident downtown.

“Either we staff [downtown] or we are taking resources from elsewhere in the city to handle that,” said Chief Franklin. “It is my desire to get ahead of this proactively.”

Mayor Kim Norton recently shadowed law enforcement as they patrolled downtown. Based on her experience, she said having a strong police presence helps not only addressing crime, but also deterring it.

“It’s very clear to me that their presence keeps people from getting in their cars and driving home,” said Mayor Norton. “So, it’s not just that they’re breaking up a fight — and there was that, too; or taking someone to the emergency room who’s had too much to drink — there was that, too; but a lot of stuff didn’t happen because they were there.”

City staff are now tasked with formulating a recommendation based on council input from Monday. The goal is to have the new fee structure implemented in January 2020.

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