Hillsboro Council may open public grounds to alcohol use

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro City Council authorized the city attorney at its Tuesday meeting to draft an ordinance that would allow the consumption of alcohol on designated public properties.

Presently, state law forbids the consumption of alcohol on public properties. Local governments can legislate exemptions to that prohibition, however.

The issue of alcohol consumption was raised by council members in a recent planning meeting following a men’s slow-pitch tournament held at the Sports Complex this summer.

City Administrator Steven Garrett said such tournaments generate revenue that helps subsidize the city’s recreation program. It was suggested the possibility of consuming alcohol would make Hillsboro a more attractive host city for tournaments.

But the council broadened the discussion beyond tournaments at the Sports Complex to include the Scout House in Memorial Park and the county fairgrounds.

“I know there’s people out there who’d like to have a wedding reception where they can have alcohol, and there is no other place in Hillsboro to do that except the American Legion,” said Councilor Matt Hiebert, who led the meeting in the absence of Mayor Delores Dalke.

The Scout House would give people a second option, he said.

Councilor Len Coryea said removing the ban on consuming alcohol might benefit the Marion County Fair in the future.

“I don’t think 4-H can carry the fair (financially) 10 years down the road,” he said.

Hiebert said rodeos typically are sponsored by tobacco and alcohol companies. If an alcohol company were allowed to sell its product on site, its sponsorship could enhance the quality of the rodeo itself as well as help to subsidize the fair as a whole.

Hiebert said the fair board would have the final say whether to allow alcohol consumption at its events, but if the city proactively exempted the property, the board would have one less obstacle to clear if it wanted to pursue that option.

City Attorney Dan Baldwin said the council could allow for the consumption of alcohol in one of two ways: it could identify specific properties and exempt them indefinitely from the state statute, as is the case now for the local golf course; or it could exempt a specific property for a specific time or event.

In the latter case, the party sponsoring such an event would have to ask the council for permission, and advance public notice would have to be published in the official newspaper if permission was granted.

Concerned that the latter procedure would be cumbersome, the council asked Baldwin to draft an ordinance that would exempt specific properties indefinitely. The council will consider the draft at its next meeting.

Earlier in the discussion, Baldwin noted the council could not limit consumption to cereal malt beverages. All alcoholic beverages would be allowable if a property is exempt.

He also said that once a property is exempted indefinitely, the city could not restrict the consumption of alcohol to specific times of the day. He wondered if that had implications for the Sports Complex late at night.

Councilors replied that the Sports Complex is closed and locked at 11 p.m., so that should not be a problem.

Another practical issue raised was the impact an alcohol-use exemption would have on school events held at the Sports Complex. Hillsboro High School and Tabor College softball teams play their home games there.

Baldwin said the impact was unclear, but it touches on a broader issue schools continually face: “How much jurisdiction does a school have over people who don’t go to school?”

The only philosophical concern raised about allowing alcohol consumption on public property came from Garrett, who likened this proposal to state governments sponsoring gambling to help subsidize public education.

“This came about because a softball tournament supplied a boatload of money that goes to the recreation coffers to prop up our baseball programs because we can’t afford to cover all the expenses ourselves,” Garrett said. “If we had to charge kids (what the programs really costs), it’d be exorbitant.”

Garrett said he understood the council’s motivation, but speaking as a parent he added, “I have a hard time balancing ‘family event’ and alcohol (consumption).”

He said if the council was inclined to pass such an ordinance, he wanted to make sure it would “have no holes in it that would get us in the end.”

Employee health insurance

With some reluctance, the council approved a more expensive health-insurance package for city employees that will actually reduce their benefits.

If the city would continue its present package with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the cost to the city would increase by 46 percent for the next budget year.

“Our group’s average age went down, and unfortunately we, along with a lot of other cities, are getting hit by what the insurance pool is doing,” City Clerk Jan Meisinger said in a memo to council members.

Though several alternate options were presented, Garrett said the city really had no other option except to choose the least expensive one-which would still result in a 20 percent cost increase.

The new plan means employees will have to pay more out of their pocket to add coverage for a spouse, children or the family plan, but they also will have to contend with a higher deductible and a higher co-insurance limit.

Garrett expressed frustration with the direction health-insurance coverage continues to head.

“It’s getting to the point where I’m not sure it’s doing us any good,” he said. “One more increase like this and we’ll have to start paying people not to be sick.

“Next year, we’ll have to really question what we really can provide,” he added, noting that the city’s approach to health insurance may have to be “dramatically different” from what it is now.

Other business

In other matters, the council:

— heard from Garrett that he is still negotiating fees with the county for handling the city’s commercial and demolition waste. He said the issue between the haulers and the county is “who’s getting gouged.”

“I think we can solve the problem by communication,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but I’m hopeful we can get there.”

— adopted Ordinance 1076, which amends the city’s fireworks ordinance to allow the city council to approve exceptions for the use of fireworks during the year. Previously, only the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve were stipulated.

— accepted a bid from Reiss & Goodness Engineers to be the administrator of the housing-rehabilitation grant for which the city intends to apply. The application will be submitted by Oct. 1.

— accepted a bid from Tom Chavy of Manhattan to be the risk assessor for the same housing-rehabilitation project.

— approved paying an invoice of $2,275 from Reiss & Goodness for administration services for the first phase of the housing-rehabilitation project that recently was completed.

— approved ordinances No. 1074 and No. 1075 that adopt for city use the 2003 Uniform Public Offense Code and the 2003 Standard Traffic Ordinance, respectively.

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