RDA dives into liquor license fee guidelines

Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – They didn’t have a quorum, so they couldn’t take any action, but the Redevelopment Authority met to discuss its newly-granted power Thursday.

The City Council voted last month to give the RDA control over refunding the $10,000 fee for reserve retail liquor licenses granted by the city.

The state established a one-time $10,000 fee to issue a new liquor license a number of years ago, as opposed to the $500 annual fee and fee for licenses established earlier.

It had been the city’s practice to refund that amount to the license holder once they had their business up and running, but the council opted instead have the RDA control that money and return all or part of it based on economic development guidelines which the RDA must develop.

“The council has requested that we come up with our own criteria we could use,” Alderman David Williams, who is a member of the RDA, explained. “It’s pretby ty much in our ballpark to consider and determine what we want to implement.”

“The RDA has the authority to establish grant guidelines,” City Administrator Brian Yerges told the RDA. “The RDA could decide to give it all back, some of it or none of it, right away or over several years. The RDA has to establish guidelines.”

He noted that new licensees will have six months to apply for a rebate of the fee under the ordinance change approved by the council.

Yerges said that the language approved by the council also prohibits rebates to any greenfield developers – someone building a new facility on undeveloped land.

Williams added that some of the criteria that were suggested included whether a license holder would be making actual modifications to their facility, purchasing new or additional equipment, and how many additional employees they might hire.

RDA member Carol O’Malley suggested that the money should be rebated without being tied to physical improvements, while RDA chairman Lee Gentine suggested increased employment should be one of the primary considerations.

“I do think if you’re giving licenses, it should be done in some way that you’re increasing employment,” he explained.

Whatever criteria the RDA settles on, Williams noted, it should provide incentive for license holders.

“Whoever wants to apply for a license will probably look at whatever criteria we come up with and try to qualify for that, because why would they want to throw $10,000 away,” Williams commented. “I would think a business going in, knowing if they fill out the proper paperwork and play their cards right, would want to get their money back if they can.”

“If it’s a bona-fide business today, how could anybody not spend $10,000 on improvements,” Gentine agreed.

Noting that all liquor license holders have to pay $500 a year for their license, Gentine suggested that the maximum return to new reserve license holders should be $9,500, rather than the full $10,000.

Other RDA members agreed, with Williams noting, “The understanding is that this is not going to make us rich because in most cases we’re going to be giving most of it (the license fee) back. But we really want to see the RDA be successful.”

Gentine questioned the council’s decision to no longer hold one or two licenses back for future large-scale restaurants, sports bars or entertainment complexes, language the council rescinded.

He postulated a scenario where someone could open a small exclusive club, with only one or two employees and two dozen or so members, which would be eligible for one of the city’s remaining licenses. “That’s not going to have a huge economic impact but the city has to (issue) the license,” he pointed out.

The city is limited to one license per every 500 of population and will not be able to create a new one until Plymouth’s population reaches 8,500.

“To me, there’s absolutely no incentive for someone coming in with a larger business,” Gentine said.

“It boiled to me, anyhow, that we had legitimate businesses ready and willing to apply for (the available) licenses,” Williams responded. “A bird in the hand versus two in the bush was the way I put it.”

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