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W’bago puts liquor store idea on hold

By Staff | Jan 15, 2012

Chris Ziegler

Deciding if Winnebago should move forward with the creation of a city-owned off-sale liquor store will have to wait until next month.

Council members voted Tuesday to table putting a required notice in the city’s official newspaper about its intention to operate a liquor store.

“I could go either way on this,” Councilman Chris Ziegler says. “I want to hear more of what the public has to say before we make any decisions.”

At the heart of the issue is if the city would be the only provider of off-sale liquor – resulting in the exclusion of private businesses from selling the same product in the city. In the required notice, Winnebago would have to express if the city would be selling off-sale liquor to the exclusion of private interests.

“The city issues off-sale liquor licenses on a yearly basis from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31,” City Administrator Austin Bleess says. “Whether to renew the off-sale licenses or not is a council issue.”

Licenses would remain valid through 2012 even if the notice is posted. What will happen in 2013 is still undecided.

“If we passed this tonight, it would shrink Dave’s (Schuster) prospective buyers even more,” Ziegler says. “Is it our place to restrict private enterprise?”

Councilman Scott Robertson and Bleess have visited with Dave Schuster of Schooter’s Bar and Grill about the possibility of the city buying his building. Council member Stacy Huntington-Scofield had questions about the condition of the potential site and asked about the possibility of building a new store.

Bleess told council members that could be an option with an open lot available on Main Street.

Robertson brought the idea of a city-owned liquor store to Bleess during the budgeting process in December. Bleess has since completed research about a possible liquor store budget.

In the first two years of operation, the city administrator anticipates a net revenue of $20,000 – $30,000. Once the city pays off a bond payment on the store, he predicts a net revenue of $45,000 – $55,000. Profits would be used to offset cuts occurring in Local Government Aid.

The idea came about after seeing other local towns profit from running an off-sale liquor store.

“In looking at towns around us Fairmont sees about $400,000 in revenue according to their newspaper,” Bleess says. “Blue Earth sees about $100,000 in net revenue each year from their liquor store.”

Winnebago Police Chief Bob Toland warned the council about possible legislation passed by the State Legislature allowing big box stores to sell liquor.

“There seems to be more and more pressure to allow that to happen,” he says to the council. “That has the potential to change your market.”

Toland later went on to say that he had no objections from the law enforcement side of things about the city owning a liquor store.

The council will rediscuss whether to publish the required notice at their Feb. 14 meeting.

“I am all about growth in Winnebago,” Councilman Robertson says. “It’s a tough call.”

For a city-owned liquor store to open, Minnesota law requires a one-year waiting period after the required notice is published in the newspaper. Since the required notice was tabled Tuesday, the earliest date Winnebago could open it’s liquor store would be Feb. 21, 2013.

“We would have to give notice first,” Bleess says. “All of the other details can be worked out afterwards.”

In other business, the council:

• Voted to sell Tom Owen 15 feet of land west of the water treatment plant for $500. Owen plans on building a new shop in that area.

• Designated the Faribault County Register as the city’s official newspaper and First Financial Bank in Winnebago, Smith Barney and Profinium Financial as official depositories.

• Accepted the pay equity report for city employees. The report protects against bias in salary amounts, especially gender bias. The state will rule on the report in the fall.

• Purchased a new iTron, a device to read water meters. The cost of the equipment and training is $6,375.