BRATTLEBORO — New administrative fees for special event liquor permits were approved after a 3-2 vote Tuesday night.
"There's no science or magic to these numbers," said Town Manager Peter Elwell.
Town Clerk Annette Cappy proposed adding a $15 fee to liquor applications for request-to-cater, special event and art gallery permits, then a $50 fee for festival or educational sampling permits. The Select Board approved of streamlining this permitting process on May 2 when she had pointed out that local businesses often miss out on the opportunity to participate in events due to the town's lengthy approval process.
A three-week wait was required sometimes due to the board only meeting on a biweekly basis. Board members, which act as liquor commissioners, were the last step in the municipal process until now. The Town's Clerk Office, Town Manager's Office, and the police and fire departments will approve the permits except for festivals when a larger amount of vendors apply. The town's Planning Services Department can also be involved for some applications.
The board held off on voting on the new administrative fees until Tuesday. The state Department of Liquor Control collects its own $20 fee for a request-to-cater permit, a $35 fee for a special events permit, a $115 fee for a festival permit, a $230 fee for an educational sampling permit and a $20 fee for hosting events at an art gallery.
Christian Stromberg, owner of Saxtons River Distillery, said businesses like his already did not want to go through the permitting process but it was the only way to show products.
"We all want our businesses to succeed," he said. "It's an extra fee we don't want to do and we're sorry we have to burden you with it. The fact so many are coming in now shows a very good thing for Brattleboro. It means there's things happening that they want us to attend."
He wondered whether all vendors could apply in one submission, recalling the process with the Wine and Harvest Festival at Mount Snow.
Avery Schwenk, cofounder of Hermit Thrush Brewery, said he could only find two other municipalities in Vermont charging fees for the permit. He worried whether the move could cause participation in Brattleboro events to drop.
Schwenk suggested giving Cappy's streamlined process of approving permits some time for review. If stress on staff continued, he said the issue could be looked at again.
Select Board Vice Chairwoman Kate O'Connor voted against the fees, saying events were an economic driver.
"It not only gives business to distillers and brewers we have here in Brattleboro, it brings other people in," she said. "You can say it's only $15. But it's the perception of a fee."
Board member David Schoales was influenced by input from Stromberg and Schwenk.
"This is the only promotion you can do. It's the only way to show product to attract business," he said.
Board member Dick DeGray's mind was not changed, he said, signaling support for town staff. He mentioned site visits that are at times required for the permits and other municipal service fees.
"I agree $600 isn't going to balance the budget. But we keep giving everything away," DeGray said. "I don't think it's bad business for us. I think it's smart business for us. I don't think people are not going to come because they have to pay a $15 fee to us."
The distribution of alcohol raises public safety issues different than other kinds of business the town tends to, said Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein, who voted in favor of the fees along with board member John Allen.
"If we find businesses are drying up," Gartenstein said, the board could revisit the fees.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.