Alderman Brett Frazier said he’s asked for the city’s personnel and finance committee along with its public safety and public works committees to meet for an informational session on whether the city should increase the number of beer and hard alcohol licenses it can grant, particularly to retailers.
No date has been set for the meeting, but Frazier said he hopes it will help gather input from city officials and businesspeople on whether the city’s liquor license quota system should be altered.
“My position is that if we have a quota, it should be higher than it is. If the council is good at enforcing who is or isn’t a good candidate for liquor licenses, I’m not sure there even needs to be a quota,” Frazier said.
The city has quotas of one Class A beer license per 1,500 residents and one Class A liquor license per 1,500 residents. Class A licenses allow retailers to conduct carryout sales.
The city also has a quota of one Class B license beer license for every 490 residents, and one Class B beer license for every 500 residents. The licenses apply mostly to restaurants and taverns.
The limits, officials said, are rooted in state statutes and are based on a census count of the city’s population. But Milton has no set criteria for what might make a business an appropriate candidate for a liquor license, according to officials.
“It varies from individual to individual,” Mayor Tom Chesmore said. “Some of what the council looks at is if you have a past (selling alcohol), and are you a chain with a high offense rate of selling to youngsters.”
Frazier argues that if the city relaxed or lifted its quotas, it would allow the city council to focus on the merits of each business that applied for a liquor license, rather than constantly quibbling over how to parse out a limited number of licenses.
Frazier said multiple local retailers have told him they’d like to apply for liquor licenses, but the city has only a few available at any given time. He said he’d like to give responsible local retailers the tools to succeed.
“I don’t need to have beer available everywhere,” Frazier said. “I’m just reacting to what I hear from businesses.”
The quota issue came up last week after the city council voted unanimously to deny an application by the Dollar General store for a Class A beer license and a Class A liquor license.
The discount variety store at 383 S. John Paul Road wanted to start stocking beer and liquor, officials said.
One city council member, Maxine Striegl, argued that Dollar General appears to have enough customer traffic that it doesn’t need to add alcohol as a revenue stream. Others pointed out that the city has reached its quota for Class A beer licenses and doesn’t have one available.
The city, however, does have one available Class A liquor license, and city ordinance allows the council under certain conditions to grant liquor licenses in excess of city quotas, but the council still decided to deny the store’s applications.
Chesmore argued that granting Dollar General’s request could set a precedent for every corner store in the city to want to sell alcohol.
Chesmore says some local alcohol retailers have told him they’d struggle under increased competition. He also argues that an increased volume of alcohol sales in the city would be difficult to police, leading to more alcohol sales to underage patrons and more drunken driving accidents.
Municipalities statewide are allowed to set restrictions on certain liquor licenses. Edgerton has a quota of one Class A liquor license per 1,500 residents, and Evansville allots one Class A liquor license per 1,200 residents.
Unlike Milton, neither of those cities has a quota limiting Class A beer licenses, according to Edgerton City Clerk Cindy Hegglund and Evansville City Clerk Judy Walton.
Milton’s personnel and finance committee, which normally handles liquor license requests and policies, would make a final recommendation to the city council before any changes could be made to the quotas.
A change would face a fight from Chesmore, who has said he’d veto any move by the council that would add liquor licenses.
“I will stop it dead in its tracks. Enough is enough,” Chesmore told the council last week.
The council could overturn the veto, but it’s not clear whether the issue would hold enough gravity for a fledgling city council with two new members to override the mayor’s will.
Frazier said he believes it’s time that the city discuss whether its quota system is arbitrary or restrictive for businesses looking to relocate or expand.
“What I reject is that because some past council set a quota that we have to abide by that. Our policy should be fluid and reflect a growing, changing community,” Frazier said.