Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Opposition puts public drinking proposal on hold

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
February 6, 2008

VERNON - A proposed ordinance allowing alcohol to be served on town property was sent back to the drawing board Tuesday after opposition in the form of a packed house and nearly 300 petition signatures.

Of those who spoke at the 40-minute public hearing during the Town Council meeting Tuesday, only two were in favor, and even their support was conditional.

Mayor Jason L. McCoy proposed the ordinance two weeks ago, touting it as a revenue-generating vehicle that could bring $50,000 a year into town coffers.

But the majority of those attending Tuesday's night's meeting felt it posed a threat to public health and welfare and set a bad example for Vernon youth.

"I don't want to see a family-oriented event like the Fourth of July in the Sky fireworks turn into a drunken brawl," former mayor Ellen L. Marmer said. "The revenue this would bring in pales in comparison" to the problems it would incur.

Harold Cummings, Republican town chairman and town attorney, cautioned against emotional arguments, saying the ordinance was merely a business proposition. Many people over the years have wanted to hold events like a wedding reception at Fox Hill Memorial Tower in Henry Park but didn't because they couldn't serve their guests alcohol, he said.

But even Cummings offered caveats, such as requiring a longer application period and requiring applicants to provide security during and cleanup after an event. Also, permits should be issued for only certain facilities such as the senior center, Fox Hill tower, town hall, Camp Newhoca, and Valley Falls, Cummings suggested.

Thirty years ago public drinking had overflowed in Vernon parks - most notably Henry Park where Fox Hill Tower stands - to the point where local neighborhood associations petitioned the council to ban alcohol from all public spaces.

As written now the proposed ordinance allows the town to issue permits for a fee granting applicants the right to serve alcohol on town property. Applicants must have necessary permits, licenses, and insurance covering both themselves and the town, and be submitted 10 days before an event for approval by the mayor.

Anyone drinking on town property without the proper permit could still face a $99 fine.

At Tuesday's public hearing, concerns were raised over the lack of certain safeguards, such as having the police chief sign off on applications, or requiring applicants to hire an off duty officer for security.

And many people questioned the projected revenue and how the parties would be regulated.

"What happens when you give a permit for 50 people and 500 show up?" asked Carl Schaeffer, who also pointed out that the Elks Lodge, which does private parties and serves alcohol, never comes close to raising $50,000 a year even with charging for the liquor itself.

Former mayor Tony Muro, chairman of the council's Risk Management Committee, said his panel was against the measure as even with a waiver, the town could still be held liable for death or injury resulting from a town sanctioned event where alcohol was served.

"I'm saddened you didn't do due diligence and have us look at this first," Muro said.

McCoy suggested amending the draft to reflect the concerns raised, but the council opted to delay a vote so that the ordinance could be rewritten and then sent to the town's insurance consultant and the risk management committee for review as well.

McCoy also asked Parks and Recreation Department Director Bruce Dinnie to research alcohol consumption, its costs, and benefits, in other communities.

After the meeting McCoy said those who spoke brought up "fairly valid concerns" including the potential cost for increased public safety and cleanup.

"If it doesn't go through, it doesn't go through - I'll find other ways to bring in revenue," he said.

©Journal Inquirer 2008