Milton could scrap alcohol prohibition in city parks

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, July 17, 2013

MILTON—A potential ordinance change in Milton could allow city park users to enjoy a bottle of wine along with a picnic dinner on the grass.

Under a staff proposal approved Tuesday by the city council, the city could scrap an ordinance that prohibits alcohol use in city-owned parks except for those who get city beer permits 30 days in advance of a park rental.

In the proposal, City Administrator Jerry Schuetz asked the council to consider ditching “old language” in the ordinance.

Schuetz also proposed the council consider tossing out a policy that requires anyone who wants to hold a gathering involving alcohol at a city park to get an advance permit.

Schuetz said the change also would save city hall and police department staff time spent dealing with hundreds of annual applications for park beer permits.

According to city clerk records Milton now issues about 130 to 150 beer permits a year for park functions. Fee for the permits is $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents.

Schuetz said the current rules seem to conflict.

“One could argue that it would appear to be contradictory to have an ordinance that prohibits alcohol consumption in a city park and then a permit process that allows it 130 to 150 times a year,” Schuetz wrote in a memo to the council.

Tuesday, Schuetz put it more simply: The contrasting rules on alcohol in parks “don't really make a lot of sense,” he said.

Some residents are saying the 30-day notice required for permits is “frustrating” because people planning picnics, reunions or other events might not have those plans laid out a month ahead of time, Schuetz wrote.

The city already has granted waivers to the 30-day notice for two residents this summer.

Schuetz said staff time spent dealing with park beer permit requests costs more than the near $1,500 in annual proceeds the permit fees bring in. Along with city staff time involved, the police department is required to conduct a background check on those seeking the permits.

The total cost of staff time for processing the permits is $3,500 to $4,000 a year, Schuetz said.

“I suppose we could have that time (processing background checks for park beer licenses) a little better spent,” Police Chief Dan Layber said.

City Clerk Michelle Ebbert told The Gazette that a blend of residents and non-residents now get beer permits along with those to rent city park facilities.

Ebbert said the city now allows alcohol consumption only in and around gazebos at city owned parks, and inside the Community House, a former train depot at North Goodrich Park that the city owns and rents out for community events.

A potential new city ordinance, which Schuetz said city legal staff would begin drafting for an upcoming council meeting, would allow people of legal drinking age to consume alcohol anywhere on park grounds.

The new rules would be separate from and make no changes to class B picnic licenses for alcohol, which rely on state law that governs beer sales in parks during special events.

The new rules likely would not restrict alcohol use during times when parks are in use by youth sports groups, Schuetz indicated, and there was no mention Tuesday of limiting consumption to just beer.

Mayor Brett Frazier said he has some concerns about alcohol consumption in parks that are in close proximity to youth sports events.

City council member Maxine Striegl said the only issue she's worried about is underage drinking.

“If we have problems, we can go back and visit it (the ordinance change) again, and stop it,” she said.

Schuetz said Milton police data shows there have been no significant issues with public safety or conduct of people within the limited scope of alcohol use currently allowed in parks under the city's beer permit rules.

“The people using our parks are doing things responsibly and appropriately,” he said.

In research by staff, Ebbert said the city's learned most area communities don't prohibit alcohol in parks.

The city of Janesville currently prohibits any alcohol in city parks except at six designated park pavilions. In those instances, people are required to get city permits to have alcohol, according to Gazette reports.

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