On Sept. 25, St. Charles officials approved a new set of rules they hope will lessen problems along a portion of North Main Street, from Clark Street to Jefferson Street, in the historic portion of the city and preclude a tougher ordinance that would force bars to stop selling alcohol hours before their 1:30 p.m. closing time.
The council voted 7-2 in favor of the ordinance with councilmembers Mary Ann Ohlms [Ward 1] and Tom Besselman [Ward 2 ] voting “no” after hearing from five speakers who said the provisions of the ordinance were excessive and could put them out of business.
Supporting the bill were councilmembers Bart Haberstroh [Ward 9], Vince Ratchford [Ward 3], Mary West, [Ward 4], Rod Hermann [Ward 8], John Hanneke [Ward 5], Bridget Ohmes [Ward 10] and Dave Beckering [Ward 7]. Councilmember Jerry Reese [Ward 6] was absent.
The bill sets up a liquor commission that includes the city’s police chief, director of community development and director of finance. Bars would be required to adhere to a point system with penalties for various infractions.
Allowing a person to leave the bar with a drink would be 1.5 points. Gambling, homicide and weapon violations would cost the establishment 3.5 points. Underage drinking would result in a 3-point penalty. If a restaurant or bar tallied 1 to 2.5 points in a six-month period, employees would have to go through training. A bar’s license could be revoked if 6.5 points or more are tailed or if there are three violations of some offenses in a 90-day period.
The ordinance also stipulates that at least 50 percent of an establishment’s gross receipts must be for food sales. The 50-percent requirement becomes effective Jan. 1 with bars being given a year – when their license is up for renewal – to comply.
The bill stops short of earlier legislation sponsored by Haberstroh, Hermann, Hanneke, Ohmes, West and Beckering that would have forced bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol past 11 p.m. Bar owners strenuously fought the earlier closing proposal, saying it would force many of them out of business and not allow them to compete with other bars in the city including the nearby Ameristar Casino.
Discussions of legislation began out of concerns about crime, drugs, vandalism and late-night misbehavior. Local residents, councilmembers, police and even bar owners say the situation has been ongoing for several years. At one time, 18 bars and restaurants held liquor licenses in that portion of the city.
Some bar owners have said they may consider legal action if an ordinance was passed that they considered too restrictive. Many also suggested that the city first should enforce the laws it already has on the books before adopting new legislation.
James Reid, who owns property on South and North Main suggested at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting that new laws may force bars out of business, which could affect real estate value in that part of the city and lead to loses in property and sales tax revenue.