Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Alcohol ordinance could work, with restrictions

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 29, 2008

VERNON — The mayor’s proposed ordinance to allow the drinking of alcohol on town property could work as a fund-raising vehicle, as long as proper restrictions are put into place and the measure gets unilateral support from the Town Council, according to two recently released opinions from insurance officials.

The two letters — one from Webster Insurance agent Christopher Wardrop, the town’s agent of record, and Tony Muro, chairman of the council’s Risk Management Advisory Committee — had similar opinions on Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s hotly contested proposition: primarily that the town should ensure certain protections before going ahead.

“Overall, the proposed change may have some financial benefits, and perhaps greater usage of its facilities by Vernon residents, but there are risks which need to be analyzed,” Wardrop wrote. “I would not recommend making the ordinance change unless the proper risk management techniques were in place and Vernon’s leaders were unanimous in moving forward together on this.”

The later sentiment is highly unlikely, as Democratic Councilwoman Pauline Schaefer and Republic Councilman Daniel Champagne are both stalwartly against the proposal.

Schaefer, who more than a decade ago pushed to ban liquor from public places after some parties got out of hand in Vernon parks, and Champagne, a Vernon police officer, have both stated they could not support the measure.

It sends the wrong message to youth, would impose on an already overworked and understaffed Police Department, and open the town up to lawsuits, they say.

They’re joined by more than 300 residents who signed petitions against the proposed ordinance. And each time the item appears on the Town Council’s agenda, the public comment section is stacked with stanched opposition.

The proposed ordinance would have the mayor issue permits for a fee to applicants, giving them permission to serve alcohol on town property for private parties, such as weddings or reunions. Applicants must have necessary permits, licenses, and insurance covering both themselves and the town, and anyone caught drinking on town property without the proper permit would still face a $99 fine.

McCoy said the ordinance could raise up to $50,000 a year — a number many call into question.

Wardrop writes that if a third party claim were filed against Vernon, there could be negative impacts, such as harm to the town’s reputation, increased premiums on Vernon’s liability insurance, and damage or depreciation in value to town facilities.

If adopted, the town should consider additional costs for hiring new staff, or overtime for existing employees to oversee and patrol activities, Wardrop says. Also extra equipment purchases, such as two-way radios, need to be taken into account, he added.

He suggested the Town Council should also decide if it wants to limit applications to Vernon residents or open them up to a wider range.

In Muro’s letter, the risk management committee also made recommendations, including:

• The renter should provided a certificate of proof of insurance coverage.

• The town should require a 90-day application period before the event takes place, rather than the 10 days previously suggested.

• Train town personnel to be involved with supervision of the event.

• Provide adequate security at the renter’s cost.

• And require all incidents to be reported to town government.

The Town Council now is waiting for Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Dinnie to present a list of area towns and their policies for consuming alcohol on town property before addressing the issue again.

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