vintage lamps with blurred liquor bar

City fees charged to bars, restaurants, stores, breweries and other businesses selling alcohol in Rochester area likely to be increased -- but not all at once.

Rather, City Council members on Monday asked City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead to work on a plan to implement the proposed schedule of increases over a two-year period.

“That’s consistent with the feedback I have heard from the businesses,” she said in response.

The initial suggestion was to enact half of each increase on April 1, when liquor licenses are renewed, and then again with the rest of the planned increases in 2021.

But taking such half-measures would likely delay funding for a license examiner position and for new police initiatives focused on public safety related to liquor consumption.

Proposed license increases would vary based on type of license and business, with some charges more than doubling once the increases are fully imposed. 

Council Member Michael Wojcik suggested boosting the first-year fee increase to more than half -- to the amount required to hire the examiner and fund the police programs. In other words, about 75 percent of the full fees in the first year, and the remaining 25 percent in 2021.

“I’d be open to potentially lopping off a quarter of the fees the first year essentially, and then going up the the full amount,” he said. In fact, since it will take time to recruit and hire a new license examiner and gear up the police initiatives, the position and programs will likely cost less than they would for a full year of operation.

Council Member Patrick Keane agreed that the city should take care in filling the new position.

“If that has to slow down the hiring, that should happen,” he said.

As the proposed fee schedule is adjusted, Council Member Mark Bilderback encouraged Hollingshead to continue meeting with license holders.

The Fourth Ward council member, who represents the core of downtown Rochester, said he hasn’t been hearing significant pushback on the proposal. Nearly all of the city's liquor license fees haven't changed since 1992.

Business owners subject to the fees "are not excited about having more money charged to them, but they understand it,” Bilderback said, noting some business owners have shown support for education and other initiatives expected to be funded by the higher fees.

In addition to liquor license fees, council members expressed support for other fee increases, which would help hire two new assistant fire marshals and an assistant city clerk.

Fees related to installation of fire protection systems, and permits for businesses with activities that pose increased fire risks would increase. Those higher fees would largely cover the $250,000 cost for two new fire marshals.

Additionally, Fire Chief Eric Kerska has said the added staff will generate revenue simply by catching up on delayed inspections.

The new assistant clerk will be funded through a variety of fee increases, which include licensing for contractors, gambling, transportation, businesses, animals, peddlers and special events, Hollingshead said.

In all, more than 90 percent of the added $663,000 in expenses for the 2020 city budget would be covered by additional fee revenue, according to city estimates.

“This is obviously our estimate as it is today,” City Administrator Steve Rymer said, noting staff will watch how each proposed change affects the spending plan.

With council approval of the proposed budget changes, Rymer said staff will work on finalizing the budget document ahead of the planned Dec. 2 public hearing on the approximately $389 million spending plan. Local property taxes will cover up to $79.5 million of that amount.

“Hopefully, we will be able to bring forward a document that reflects everything we talked about up to this point,” he said.

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