Alcohol commissioners protest changes
March 25, 2011
The Swede Alley liquor store may be saved.
After the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s Thursday commission meeting, the Old Town location was still on a list of about half a dozen stores recommended for closure. But fortunately for Park City residents and visitors, the department said it would take another look.
According to department spokeswoman Vickey Ashby, Commissioner Gordon Strachan, a Park City attorney, asked staff to change the matrix for how the stores are ranked. This theoretically could change which stores top the list for closure.
Strachan requested a re-examination of public safety factors, she said. Those criteria include which stores see the highest consumption rates and contribute most to drunk-driving on nearby streets. Staff promised to recalculate which stores make the most sense to close, she explained.
Currently Swede Alley is No. 5 on the list because of its close proximity to the Snow Creek Drive liquor store. In the department’s matrix, the Old Town store is redundant.
The commission will make the final decisions on how to cut about $2 million from the department’s budget later this spring, she said.
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Also discussed at the meeting was how to implement shorter store hours to save money on staffing. Stores will likely alternate between being open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Ashby said the commission also passed a motion asking the staff to write a letter to Governor Gary Herbert encouraging a veto of Senate Bill 314 the legislation containing the majority of this year’s changes to Utah’s liquor laws.
Three concerns that stood out are new rules regulating the appointment of commissioners, conflicts of interest and the sale of liquor licenses, she said.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, requires the commission chair to be appointed by the governor instead of voted upon by the commission members.
It also requires the department’s executive director to meet the approval of the governor and senate after a vote of the commission.
The bill prevents any commissioner, director, key staff or their direct family members from working in a business that holds a liquor license. Currently these people recuse themselves from any decisions made regarding a place of employment. The new law would make it difficult for these people to find employment, Ashby said.
Golf courses, ski resorts, restaurants and myriad other businesses hold liquor licenses. The commission felt this was too big a burden on the family members of those associated with the department, she explained.
Lastly, a major concern was raised over a part of the bill that allows for the sale of existing liquor licenses.
In other states that allow this, an industry forms to broker the licenses, driving the value of a license up to thousands of dollars and making them unaffordable for start-ups, she said.
Legislators said they wrote the bill to prevent this, but commissioners said in other states they have seen people find ways around any rules set in place against brokering the licenses.
This is an especially difficult issue since the permitted number of licenses have essentially run out in Utah, she added. As an example, she said that also at the meeting the commission had to choose from over a dozen applicants to grant a single available license.
"Some have been on the agenda for months some are on the cusp of losing their business unless they can secure a license," she added.
The commission’s next meeting to discuss store closures is April 28.
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