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Town and Village

Board approves liquor permit fee

BRATTLEBORO—Creators and purveyors of alcohol seeking special-event permits from the town of Brattleboro will now pay an additional local fee.

A local $15 charge is added to catering permits, special-event permits, and art gallery permits. Festival and educational-sampling permits now carry a $50 fee.

The state Department of Liquor Control charges a fee for special-events permits. It also allows towns to add their own fees.

The board approved the new fees after much discussion on May 17.

This decision follows on the heels of a new administrative policy the board approved May 3. The policy authorizes the Town Clerk’s office to validate certain liquor permits in-office rather than bring them to the board for approval.

Events with five or more vendors still require a vote by the Selectboard.

According to Town Manager Peter Elwell, staff also recommended that the board consider adding local fees.

In an April 25 memo, Town Clerk Annette Cappy wrote, “Often permits require considerable staff time from numerous departments and it would not seem unreasonable to charge a local processing fee.”

According to information in her memo, Brattleboro last year issued 71 liquor permits for either festivals, special events, catered events, or educational-sampling events.

State fees for these different classes of permits range from $20 to $230.

Based on Cappy’s memo, the state collected $2,325 for the 71 permits issued in Brattleboro last year.

Elwell said the new local fees will help cover employees’ time and other processing costs.

He added, however, that the small per-permit sums will only offset the town’s costs rather than cover them completely.

Local brewer Avery Schwenk and distiller Christian Stromberg spoke against the new fees, saying they represented one more burden on local businesses.

Schwenk, vice-president of Hermit Thrush Brewery, said the town already charges a 1 percent option alcohol tax.

Stromberg added that taking product to special events is one way distilleries gain exposure in a heavily regulated industry. He also warned that charging the extra fees may deter other brewers or distillers from attending local events.

That would hurt Brattleboro’s vitality, he said.

Vice-Chair Kate O’Connor also serves as the executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce. She agreed with Schwenk and Stromberg.

Special events help the local economy, she said. These events and local businesses are one reason people come to “shop, dine, and stay” in town.

She worried the new fees would send the wrong message.

The town isn’t using the fees to balance its budget but because it can charge them, O’Connor said — it isn’t a good idea.

“So really, it’s a perception issue for me,” she said.

Board member Dick DeGray disagreed.

“We keep giving everything away for free,” he said, but these businesses are for profit — “I don’t think it’s bad business for us, I think it’s good business for us.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #358 (Wednesday, May 25, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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