Council sees draft liquor licensing ordinance

In other action

At its Tuesday meeting, the Craig City Council:

• Renewed the hotel and restaurant liquor license for Casa Loya Mexican Restaurant at 351 Ranney St.

• Approved the sketch plan for the Meadows at Pine Ridge subdivision.

• Approved the site plan for the Hampton Inn & Suites on west First Street.

• Set a public hearing for June 24 to discuss the annexation of roughly 59 acres on Colorado Highway 13.

• Set a public hearing for July 8 to discuss the zoning of the possible 59-acre annexation south of town.

• Awarded a $466,062.50 bid to Elam Construction for asphalt projects in 2008, including a 2-inch overlay on First Street from Colo. 13 to Ranney Street, and paving the parking lot just north of the Golden Cavvy on Yampa Avenue.

• Approved an ordinance to raise fees for construction Dumpsters and extra trash pickups.

• Tabled approving an ordinance to change the utility business occupation tax for utility companies. The ordinance would change the city fees from a percent charge to a per-line charge. The Council will review the ordinance again at its June 10 meeting.

• Heard the introduction of a ordinance to rename tap fees as capital investment fees and raise rates. The ordinance also increases fees for bulk water and septic tank discharge.

• Approved a resolution to take $20,000 from the Conservation Trust Fund - made up of state lottery dollars - to pay for Denver-based firm Sink Combs Dethlefs to work on a recreation center proposal. The council had previously approved the expenditure, but had to approve a resolution to take the money out of the Trust Fund. Councilor Joe Herod cast the only vote in opposition.

• Approved a contract with Windsor-based SAFEbuilt. to review and inspect The Memorial Hospital's plans and building site for code compliance. The city will pay SAFEbuilt a fee based on the total cost of the hospital.

• Approved a contract to buy 12,500 square feet in the parking lot area north of the Golden Cavvy on Yampa Avenue for $55,000. The deal's completion is pending title review and final negotiations. Short-term plans are for the city to pave the parking lot and make it available for downtown parking.

— There's a light at the end of the tunnel.

After talking about restructuring the city's liquor licensing process for the past four months, the Craig City Council viewed a draft ordinance Tuesday that would do just that. Craig Police Department Chief Walt Vanatta said he had met with about 20 liquor license holders earlier that day, and they agreed the draft was a good direction.

The draft ordinance includes provisions to establish an administrative hearing officer to oversee violations and penalties and creates a penalty structure.

The council retains its position as the liquor licensing authority and will grant and renew licenses. Councilors felt an independent hearing officer, however, would be more consistent in deciding penalties than the council's changing membership.

The push to restructure came after two police department compliance checks on liquor license holders, the first in January and a second earlier this month.

In both cases, 10 local license holders were cited for selling alcohol to a minor. The police department hired the minor and instructed the person to use his or her own underage driver's license.

Vanatta, in addressing concerns raised by license holders, said he understands it probably is frustrating to be held accountable for the actions of employees.

"I applaud their efforts" to curb underage drinking, he said. "They've been a very willing partner through this whole process. Frankly, I empathize with these folks."

He added that the city, police department and 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office may need to get together and look at changing the penalties for underage drinkers trying to buy and the specific employees who sell to them.

First offenses for minors trying to buy alcohol may not be enough of a deterrent, Vanatta said.

"I think part of the problem is the punishment for a first offense is deferred prosecution," he said. "Not much incentive not to drink."

In the past, license holders felt some tenets of the ordinance were confusing or unfair, such as employee training requirements and how to balance penalties for small and larger businesses.

Vanatta said the draft ordinance makes training standards as clear as possible.

First, training is defined as completing a seminar that meets Colorado Department of Revenue standards.

Second, though training is not required, the hearing officer may use it as a mitigating factor to lessen a penalty. Also, in a case where no training was conducted, the license holder is subject to a mandatory $250 fine in addition to any other penalties.

"We're encouraging that training, but not requiring it," Vanatta said.

As to the question of equity between big and small businesses, Vanatta said the ordinance offers a fine in lieu of suspension, which would allow a small business to stay open instead of being forced to close for a time.

Small business owners have said losing their license for 14 days could put them out of business.

The fine would be equal to 20 percent of the store's alcohol sales during the proposed suspension, but not less than $200 and not more than $5,000.

The Council will review the ordinance for first and second readings at its next two meetings before formally adopting the ordinance.

Mayor Don Jones said the city has been dealing with underage drinking problems for too long.

"Hopefully, this is going to help send the message that we as the council are not going to take it anymore," he said.

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