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home : premium content : news May 30, 2016

12/5/2012 1:53:00 PM
Council learns liquor fees are likely illegal

Ian Dunn

The Leavenworth City Council has learned proposed liquor license fees may be illegal under state law. The council was considering charging liquor license owners in the city a $25 annual fee to support the Merchant Patrol.

At the Nov. 27 Leavenworth City Council meeting, City Administrator Joel Walinski said they have been unable to find any other cities in Washington doing the same thing.

"Ultimately, there is no local authority to charge a liquor license fee or to impose a separate fee or tax locally on a liquor serving establishment," said Thom Graafstra, Leavenworth city attorney.

Councilman Tibor Lak said the Bell Town area of Seattle was doing something similar to cover the extra nighttime patrols in the area. Graafstra said he would look into it.

"If there was an ordinance to impose this fee, Seattle would have to impose it. We will look further to see if there is something out there. But in the look we have done so far, we have not come up with an example of a local jurisdiction imposing a liquor license or liquor fee or tax," he said. "Frankly, state law doesn't allow that. But we'll see what Seattle is doing."

As a city code, if there is not a law that prohibits us from doing it, (then the city can do it) Councilman Elmer Larsen purported.

"That is not true as it relates to taxes and licensing fees," Graafstra told Larsen. "They have to be specifically authorized by the state."

Special Use Permits

City officials are considering raising cost to rent city space in town, including Front Street Park, and on the sidewalks. Currently, the city charges 36 cents per square foot, which Walinski said is probably too low.

In some cases, Front Street Park is rented out, say to a non-profit like Art in the Park. The other scenario, Walinski said, is the commercial use of right of way downtown, by the businesses like Ducks and Drakes, Cafe Verona, South Restaurant and Tumwater Restaurant.

The changes recommended include adding a park rental fee to groups like Art in the Park and Christkindlmarkt. There would be a different rate for rental of public sidewalk.

"We had the commercial sidewalk rate would be increased to $1 per square foot or 50 cents. Then, the park permit would be 36, 39 and 50 cent rate," Walinski said. "What I would like is a little direction, because I would like to put together a final rate and fee schedule."

Councilman Michael Molohon felt the increase to $1 was too much. He thought 50 cents would be better.

"I totally agree that 50 cents is appropriate for commercial establishments," said Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar. "That is significantly smaller square footage. Art in the Park, on the other hand, might find that difficult. We could possibly do this with the caveat we are going to continue to look at this."

The sidewalk cafe is a kind of European ambiance, Councilman Elmer Larsen said.

"We don't want to discourage that. I would keep the fees low and reasonable so as to encourage not discourage," he said.

If someone wanted to conduct a commercial venture in the park, outside a festival, Walinski said it would be 50 cents per square feet.

Farivar questioned if that was a sufficient amount, considering it is only 1/15th the monthly rate, and not to mention the beating the park takes.

"There's nothing that says we have to allow for commercial interests to come in and rent that space," Walinski said. "We've had commercial interests want to use Front Street Park and we have generally shied away from them."

Councilman Tibor Lak suggested a daily rate for someone coming on the weekend. But Larsen said he would be cautious of having a fixed rate, like say $200 per day.

"It is a public space for visitors to enjoy. To commercialize, we are giving up a lot," Larsen said.

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or

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