Feb 22, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge Staff WriterThe City of Riverton on Tuesday increased the number of alcohol catering permits to 24 per venue, up from the original six per licensee per year.
The catering permit issue that sparked controversy throughout Riverton for more than a month finally came to a close as the permit level was raised to match the state level of 24. The council approved the change at Tuesday night's regular meeting at Riverton City Hall.
City residents brought their comments to the council before the third and final reading. Michelle DesEnfants addressed the council, after speaking at the two previous council meetings.
"This is my third time to speak, and I wanted to thank everyone that has been involved in this discussion over the last several weeks," DesEnfants said. "I have really appreciated the civility of our discussions.
"I want to go on to state that the caterers started their businesses knowing their limitations, and they chose to go in their business anyway. I don't want the permits increased or decreased. I just want them to stay what they are."
A catering permit allows a licensed liquor retailer to service alcoholic beverages at an approved location off the premises of the licensed establishment.
DesEnfants suggested that the council hold off on increasing the permits for a year to see if the number of driving under the influence arrests in the community might decrease.
"You have heard from (Riverton police) chief Broadhead, city administrator Steven Weaver, a former police chief, a volunteer firefighter and you have the housewife right here, so I ask the council to please considering waiting on increasing them," DesEnfants said.
Jason Hawk, owner of Bar 10, also spoke for the third time, saying that there is a significant need for more catering licenses in the community.
"I think we all know that these parties are going to go on whether I am involved with them or not," Hawk said. "Anyone can bring their own beverage to these events, and there are different ways around this type of stuff. When it comes down to it, we want to make our community safer, and there are alcohol issues out there. All I ask is you let the professionals handle the events."
Carl Asbell said he felt the limitations were hindering small businesses.
"It is legal for someone 21 years of age to participate in drinking at an event, and it seems to me that in leaving the permits at the amount they currently are, you are allowing outside sources to come in and take away events from local caterers," Asbell said. "I feel like there is an anti-business sentiment here."
Asbell said he applauded councilman Eric Heiser for his position that alcohol problems are not taking place because of catering events and encouraged everyone to get involved in trying to solve the larger problem.
George Piplica reminded the council that it has the ability to monitor the number of catering permits.
"I guess I am kind of confused on why you would limit two or three good-running caterers the opportunity to do their job when you just approved 33 liquor license renewals earlier in this meeting," Piplica said.
Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen made a motion to amend the proposed ordinance by increasing the number of catering permits from six to 24 at each venue and decreasing the fee to $25 for when a Riverton caterer does an event outside city limits.
Councilman Richard Gard gave a brief history of the issue and said caterers who were active in the community came to the council and asked for more permits.
"In reality, the caterers wanted more locations, and it wasn't until the end of the last meeting that the council realized it was the location that was the problem and not the permits," Gard said. "Both of those caterers served one activity outside of Riverton, and we extracted money from them to use money for events outside of town."
Gard said that drinking is a personal decision, and even if the council made Fremont County a "dry" county there would still be a problem.
"I can buy gasoline and drive too fast, have a wreck, and the council can't legislate that," Gard said. "We have to go back and realize that we can't make people do what they don't want to do. It is legal to drink at the age of 21, and I think we need to keep with the state law of 24
(permits) and have a level playing field for everyone."
Mayor Ron Warpness said the original law was put into effect in 1979.
"The population 33 years ago would have probably been around 6,000 to 7,000 people, so I think perhaps it might be appropriate to loosen up with the increase of our population," Warpness said, but he questioned whether such a large increase is appropriate.
"It seems to me like if it were being moved up to nine permits per year, it would be a 50 percent increase, but we are talking about potentially several hundred percent. Given the ... problems with alcohol in our community, I have a hard time grasping that."
Warpness said there would be more discussion the next time liquor license renewals came in front of the council.
"Next time we won't be quite as generous at approving the licenses," Warpness said. "We need to look at other ways to deal with the alcohol problems in the community."
The council voted to approve Christensen's amendment. Warpness and councilman Todd Smith voted against the measure. Warpness congratulated the caterers after the motion carried.
Hawk said he was pleased with the decision and that helping his business thrive was the right and fair thing for the council to do.
"I have received a lot of support from the community in regard to this issue and am very pleased with the outcome," Hawk said.
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