St. Paul Park raises its liquor license feeFor the first time in 30 years, the cost of an on-sale liquor license in St. Paul Park is set to jump.
For the first time in 30 years, the cost of an on-sale liquor license in St. Paul Park is set to jump.
St. Paul Park City Council members voted 4-0 last week to hike the cost of acquiring an annual intoxicating on-sale liquor license for bars and restaurants from its current $2,500, staggering an increase to $4,000 over three years beginning in 2013.
Mayor Keith Franke, who owns Franke’s Bar on Broadway Avenue, recused himself from the vote.
The increase is needed, city officials say, to account for the rising number of police calls to St. Paul Park’s five licensed on-sale establishments and the increasing cost of policing them.
St. Paul Park police responded to 131 calls to the city’s bars and restaurants in 2011, according to city figures, at an average cost of $250 per call. That amounts to more than $30,000 in police calls the city attributes to its drinking establishments.
The cost of some incidents can run far higher, however, officials have noted. The prosecution of an assault or other incident at a bar can run the city thousands of dollars, according to City Administrator Kevin Walsh.
Since the fee was last raised in 1982, the St. Paul Park Police Department’s annual budget has risen from less than $250,000 to roughly $1 million.
“Our costs have definitely gone up — definitely — and we haven’t increased the liquor license fee in 30 years,” said council member Sandi Dingle.
When the three-year phased increase is complete, the $4,000 cost of a liquor license for a bar or restaurant will still be far below the cost of obtaining one in neighboring Cottage Grove and nearby Woodbury, where licenses cost $9,500 and $10,000 per year, respectively.
But bar owners who spoke at a public hearing last week said it’s unfair to compare St. Paul Park to its larger neighbors. The city of Newport, just north of St. Paul Park, charges its on-sale establishments $2,500 for the yearly license.
“These are certainly significant cost increases we’re talking about here,” said Tim Kennedy, co-owner of Vinny’s on the River, the bar located at Hidden Harbor Marina. “It’s a misconception among many people that restaurants, bars [and] nightclubs are fabulous money machines. They’re not. We operate on small margins.”
Kennedy suggested the city look at other solutions to the problem of increased police costs. One option, he said, was fewer officer patrols, an idea quickly dismissed by the council.
Walsh first proposed the fee hike in January. The council has met for three workshops on the issue to hash out details of the increase.
“We understand that times are tough,” council member Jeff Swenson said. He cited economic concerns and recent assessments that were levied against Broadway Avenue businesses — including some bars — to help pay for road and sewer improvements. The council elected to phase the increases in to soften the blow to business owners, he said.
“It feels like a large increase when you look at it,” said council member Jennifer Cheesman, “but we’ve staggered it to lessen the impact.”