Brainerd bars will continue to close at 1 a.m.
The Brainerd City Council Monday, by a 6-1 vote, directed city staffers to draft an ordinance making 1 a.m. the official bar closing time within the city, rather than follow the new state law allowing bars to stay open until 2 a.m.
Unless the city council had voted to maintain the 1 a.m. closing time, 2 a.m. would be the default closing time, under the law that goes into effect Aug. 1.
Voting against the motion was council member Gary Scheeler, who said as a tourist area, Brainerd would benefit from extended bar hours. Scheeler made a motion to direct staffers to review an ordinance change allowing bars to stay open until 2 a.m., but the motion was defeated by a 5-2 vote, with council member Lucy Nesheim the only other council member voting in favor.
The city council received a memo from seven downtown bar owners requesting the bar time be extended to 2 a.m. Tropical Nights owner Ed Mattson said the additional hour would create extra service jobs in the area and increase the city's tax base.
Council member Mary Koep said extending the bar hours wasn't healthy or safe for Brainerd residents.
"We're inviting problems for law enforcement. There'll be additional accidents. People will not be home with their families," said Koep. "Next year they'll want 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, I wonder how much is enough? I think it's a poor message to send that the only way to have fun is to go to the bar and drink more."
A 2 a.m. closing time also was a concern for law enforcement. Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc said in addition to the extra overtime that would need to be paid to officers, an extended bar closing time would mean less patrol in other parts of the city.
Some council members wanted to wait and see what other cities in Minnesota would do, and how well a 2 a.m. closing time would work.
"I've been critical of the city in the past for trailing, but on this one I do not think we need to lead," said council President Jim Dehen.
"I can't say I will never vote for 2 a.m. bar closing, but at this time it's not in the best interest of the city," added Anne Nelson Fisher.
Closing time in Minnesota has been at 1 a.m. since 1949. If a city council allows it, businesses choosing to close at 2 a.m. would pay a fee of between $200 and $600, depending on their volume of liquor sales. Coupled with federal funds, the Legislature expects the additional hour to bring in about $6 million over the next two years with the money being used to put about 50 more state troopers on the road. The fee would disappear in 2005 if the later bar hours are bringing in enough sales tax revenues to cover the cost of the troopers.
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