Archive for Saturday, July 21, 2007

Should beer tax help pay for police?

Local bar owners, city advisory board at odds over where to spend money

July 21, 2007


Hear Brad Finkeldei, chair of the city's Special Alcohol Fund Advisory Board, discuss the mission of the board.

Hear Brad Finkeldei, chair of the city's Special Alcohol Fund Advisory Board, discuss the mission of the board.

On many a Saturday about 2 a.m., it is not difficult to find a Lawrence police officer. Just look in one particular block of downtown.

"There are times when our entire midnight shift is literally all in a one-block area of downtown responding to incidents," Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin recently told a meeting of bar owners and community members. "There are times during the school year when that happens on a weekly basis."

Taxing trifecta

Unlike many other goods, alcohol in Kansas is taxed three different times before it reaches the consumer. Here's a look:¢ Gallonage tax: 18 cents per gallon for beer. This is paid when the distributor purchases the beer from the manufacturer. 100 percent of the tax goes to the state.¢ Enforcement tax: 8 percent. This is paid when the bar buys the beer from the distributor. 100 percent goes to the state.¢ Drink tax: 10 percent. This is paid by the consumer at the club. 70 percent goes to the city; 30 percent to the state.

How much does it cost?

Amount of tax paid on a $3 bottle of beer in Lawrence: 37 cents.To put it in perspective, alcohol is taxed at a rate that is 68 percent higher than other goods, such as a $3 purchase of Coca Cola which is taxed at 22 cents.

Quick shots:

A few small doses of extra information$23.4 millionAmount of money spent on alcohol at Lawrence bars and restaurants in 2006.7.3 percentAmount of all Kansas bar and restaurant alcohol sales originating in Lawrence.3.2 percentPercent of Kansas' population located within the city of Lawrence.

Sometimes the one-block area is the 700 block of New Hampshire, home to Last Call. But not always. Sometimes it is other blocks. The only common element is that alcohol usually plays a major role in the problem.

But now, some bar owners are saying alcohol can play a major part in the solution, too. That's because alcohol does more than add a little life to the party. It adds a significant amount of tax dollars to City Hall coffers.

"We've sent in $24,000 in liquor tax money in the last three months, and we haven't had to call the police department at all in that time," said Nick Carroll, owner of Jackpot Saloon and Replay Lounge downtown. "But it is frustrating that we don't have more police officers for downtown."

A taxing thirst

Here's a number for you: $23.4 million. That's how much alcohol Lawrence residents and visitors bought at local bars and restaurants in 2006. That represents about 7 percent of all bar and restaurant alcohol sales in the state, despite Lawrence's population accounting for only about 3 percent of the state's total.

That much alcohol consumption causes challenges for law enforcement, city leaders say. But it also means a tax bonanza. That's because alcohol sales are taxed unlike any other product in the state.

On typical purchases - such as food, clothes and automobiles - a 7.3 percent sales tax is charged in Lawrence. Of that total, 2 percent stays in Douglas County - mainly the city - while the rest goes to the state. But on alcohol sales, a flat 10 percent tax is charged on all drinks bought at bars and restaurants. By state law, 7 percent goes directly to the city.

In 2006, that resulted in $1.63 million in tax revenue for the city. Several bar owners are saying a logical way for the city to spend more of that money is on police officers.

City commissioners say they are concerned about downtown nightlife safety, and are discussing new bar regulations that would make it easier for the city to revoke a problem establishment's license.

But bar owners have said that many of the problems the city is concerned about - everything from possession of firearms to disorderly conduct - are not primarily happening inside the bars but rather out on the sidewalks or adjacent city parking lots. That's where more police could help.

"Our police department is the best asset we have to use as a deterrent," said Rob Farha, owner of The Wheel.

Funding dispute

Attempts to use more of the alcohol tax dollars to fund law enforcement has been met with resistance, though. Under state law, alcohol tax revenues that the city receives are to be divided equally among three separate parts of the city budget.

One part is the general fund. That's the portion of the budget that funds general operations, including the $14 million police department budget. So, theoretically, the city is using about $540,000 - one third of the city's 2006 alcohol tax collections - to fund the police department because that money was deposited into the general fund.

The other two-thirds go into a special alcohol tax fund and a special recreation fund. The special recreation fund is to fund park and recreation activities. The special alcohol fund, though, can be used to fund law enforcement activities, in addition to social service programs that work to treat or prevent alcohol or drug problems.

But for years, none of the special alcohol fund money has been used to fund law enforcement. City Manager David Corliss' office submitted a request to the advisory board that makes recommendations to the City Commission on how to spend the alcohol tax money. Corliss' office was seeking $224,000 to fund three police officer positions. Corliss' staff argued that the police officer positions could be used to help downtown safety.

The advisory board, though, recommended that none of the special alcohol money be used to fund police officer positions. Dave Kingsley, a member of the advisory board, said there were good reasons to not use the alcohol money to fund the police department.

"The way I look at it is if those bars downtown have major problems with crime, those bar owners should be held accountable for that," Kingsley said. "If they run their businesses in a way that causes problems, the city should deal with the bar owners, and the bar owners should be made to deal with the problems.

"The citizens of Lawrence shouldn't have to pay for those problems."

Brad Finkeldei, chairman of the advisory board, also said there was concern that funding the police officer positions would leave several other worthy organizations unfunded. The alcohol money traditionally has been used to fund community social service agencies.

Agencies that have traditionally received significant funding from the alcohol tax are Big Brothers Big Sisters; Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence; DCCCA; Headquarters Counseling Service; Van Go Mobile Arts; and Women's Transitional Care Services.

Finkeldei said the budgets of those organizations seem too tenuous, and granting the police department funding would have eaten up a little more than one-third of the available alcohol tax money that the board has to distribute.

Police needs

Police Capt. Ed Brunt said typically the police department has 16 to 18 officers patrolling the entire city during the early morning weekend hours when bars are closing.

He said he would like to have 12 to 14 officers to devote just to the bar scene. Corliss also has said he recognized the need for more police, but his recommended 2008 budget doesn't include funding for any additional officers.

Tight financial times make it difficult to find the needed money, Corliss said. He estimates each new police officer position costs about $60,000 once salary, vehicle and equipment costs are factored into the budget. He has said adding additional police officers would be his top priority for the 2008 budget, if more financial resources were available.

"But there's a limit to how much you can increase people's property taxes," Corliss said.


Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

Having come from 8th and New Hampshire tonight, I would not be opposed to raising the alcohol tax AND spending a larger portion of the revenues for more officers. In fact, downtown Lawrence would be well served with a few nights of saturation patrols arresting people for public intoxication. It will be worse once the college kids get back and Lawrence does not appear to have enough officers to handle all the problems.

At one point tonight a large bus full of drunks showed up at the Sand Bar and were promptly thrown out. They boarded the bus and were off to a more accommodating spot down the street. While these party buses were intended to keep intoxicated drivers off of the road, the result is large crowds of drunks feel free to drink more, and if allowed in, will simply overwhelm any establishment they target. If they remain outside to smoke the chaos simply spills onto the sidewalk.

I am not a huge fan of raising taxes (especially taxes that go to the "general fund"), but in this case the high concentration of bars downtown is obviously causing a problem. Taxing the users of alcohol in order for Lawrence to effectively deal with its direct consequences of their alcohol use is a rational tax policy, but only if those revenues are actually used to deal with that problem. Only after social order is established should any excess dollars go to social welfare.

purplesage 10 years, 11 months ago

It is akin to using gambling revenues to pay for education. Or at least that is what they said would be done with that money.

This is a downward spiral - more beer, more misbehavior, some of it criminal, requiring more cops. Fights, accidents, foolishness - tax it into acceptability and police it for revenue while it scars lives and wreaks havoc.

jonas 10 years, 11 months ago

If you have issues with public drunkenness, it seems somewhat misguided to move to a college town.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

Alcohol drinkers demand more police time because they drive and/or get rowdy.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

*Adding more police officers downtown does nothing towards more control over trouble making establishments with an established pattern. Cut them off and shut them down in addition get real tough on their trouble making patrons.

  • Getting rid of the problems is making the town safer.

  • DO NOT CUT these agencies that have traditionally received significant funding from the alcohol tax : Big Brothers Big Sisters; Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence; DCCCA; Headquarters Counseling Service; Van Go Mobile Arts; and Women's Transitional Care Services. These agencies are not causing the downtown problems.

*What happened to the Special Use Permit Concept?

*What happened to the entertainment license?

*How will having more officers on the street alter the behavior of patrons at Brothers, Last Call,Granada or Coyote Club?

What if a brawl breaks out at Last Call and Brothers at the same time? How does allowing bars with an established pattern to remain in business make our city safer?

*What if the LPD cannot keep enough officers on the payroll to cover the demand no matter how much MORE money is being funneled into the LPD?

*What's up with idea of hauling a group of "intentional drunks" around on a bus? Promoting excessive drinking seems counter productive!

*How does in house bar security throwing trouble making patrons out on to public walks and or behind a steering wheel solve the problems?

cowboy 10 years, 11 months ago

while you can argue that there are businesses that generate much of the trouble the fact is that the LPD has not directed adequate resources to the issue. We act as if we are the only "entertainment district" in the country and are surprised by the behaviors and crimes generated by a large drunken population and the frequent crimes by the bum population. Its pretty simple , dedicate the necessary personnel and clean up downtown , to coin Larry The Cable Guy , Get er done.

This , to me , is just another city department whining about their budget and using a hot button to get more funding. I think its listed on page 32 of the "whining city manager guidebook ".

Bubbles 10 years, 11 months ago

This is wonderful reasoning! We should use the same reasoning with people that have aids and are fat. Since both groups are running the cost of health care through the ceiling, let's tax them to pay for their crappy behaviors.

Sigmund 10 years, 11 months ago

I have no more issues with public drunkenness than I do with driving down the wrong side of the street. I experienced both last night and both are dangerous. It is my understanding that is why they are both against the law. And while being fat and being drunk both have costs to society, drunk is more likely to impact the safety of others, both drunk and sober. Drunkenness is transitory state while being fat is more chronic. It is easy to tax the immediate cause of drunkenness downtown, alcohol served by the drink in bars downtown. Being chronically fat is more permanent and the obese typically pay more in health insurance and reach their policy limits quicker, as do smokers and people with HIV.

Raising the tax on alcohol served downtown by $1 would reduce alcohol consumed downtown and help to reduce public intoxication downtown, the reason for more police downtown. I would urge the Commissioners to implement this plan and require that every dollar of resulting revenues used to beef up the police presence downtown. The police should then be held to enforcing current laws, especially those against public intoxication.

Stephen Prue 10 years, 11 months ago

this is a no brainer, alcohol creates many problems requiring the police so increase taxes related to its consumption and hire more police. i don't use alcohol so as i said it's a no brainer, no new taxes on me and the folks who want that lifestyle bear their share of the law enforcement burden

Bubbles 10 years, 11 months ago

Are these drunk Christians, out at all hours of the night, that the police are dealing with?

KLATTU 10 years, 11 months ago

I'm all for it, and as long as we are raising taxes on particular items based on their cost to society we need to raise gasoline taxes through the roof. The war over oil resources, continued meddling in the middle east, and health issues both from pollution and Americans driving every instead of walking or biking are extremely expensive problems caused by our nation's gasoline gluttony. I shouldn't have to pay a cent of my income tax dollars for the war in Iraq: it should be paid for in gas taxes. I thought the liberated oil was going to pay for the war? If it ain't coming out of the desert sands it should come from the pump.

toefungus 10 years, 11 months ago

Yes, me need to have more officers on the street at night and taxing alcohol to pay for it is a great idea. The officers should be paid well and acknowledged for their service, too.

Jamesaust 10 years, 11 months ago

This sounds like a typical bureaucratic tactic to get more money.

The problem with the proposal is that it focuses on responding to the problem rather than limiting or eliminating the problem.

The problem comes from a small subset of (mainly) downtown bars that are associated with an above-average number of socially disruptive acts. As the one bar owner notes: "We've sent in $24,000 in liquor tax money in the last three months, and we haven't had to call the police department at all in that time." Most establishments are like that and any of the problem establishments that WANT TO become like that CAN (their 'business plan' for making money doesn't lend itself to the acts and approaches that would lead to such tranquility).

The City has had several feasible solutions presented to them that require those who CREATE the venue for the nuisance to take steps to change but so far have failed to take action. Commissioners: get busy!

NotASquishHead 10 years, 11 months ago

Sorry to tell you folks, but there is no "public drunkenness" law in the City of Lawrence... one can be drunk and stumbling around as long as they stay out of the street. I think the alcohol tax is an awesome idea. As a non-drinker, who isn't part of the problem it sounds like a great idea to make those who create the problem pay for the law enforcement.

Mkh 10 years, 11 months ago

Merril wrote: "*What happened to the Special Use Permit Concept?

*What happened to the entertainment license?"

They were horrible ideas that would have finally destroyed the once vibrant Lawrence music scene.

Merril also wrote: "How will having more officers on the street alter the behavior of patrons at Brothers, Last Call,Granada or Coyote Club?"

First of all, why do you Always include the Granada in your list of "troubled bars"? Yes there have been isolated incidents over the years, but this is not a consistant thing. In fact the Granada does not even have a consistant patronage so how can you classify them? Each night there is a different type of crowd depending on the audience of the specific bands. The majority of the time there are a bunch of harmless high school and college age kids just going to see a band they like. How is this scene remotely close to that of Last Call? Merril when was the last time you walked into Last Call and then into the Granada? Try it sometime and then tell me they are the same.

The fact is that the Granada is one of the last remaining positive attractions for downtown nightlife. If you force them to close or simply annoy them enough that they pack up and move to Iowa City, you will completely destroy the music scene in Lawrence. Brett Moisman has already moved most of his operation to KC, if the Granada leaves too Everything will go to KC except the specific large acts that can fill Liberty Hall and the tiny local bar bands. Do realize how much money a place like the Granada makes for it's downtown neighbors throughout a week? They bring in tons of money to downtown from people coming from all over the area to see live shows. Those audience members shop downtown, eat at the resturants, and stay at the hotels.

Plus the Granada is the only place left in this entire town that has a professional sound system permanently in house. To compare them to Last Call is ridiculous!

Now to answer your question, more cops on the street will solve Nothing.

As far as the beer tax, I think it's a bad idea, especially since I love beer. I think the "problems" downtown have been blown way out of proportion. Downtown Lawrence is one of the safest nightime spots I can think of, 99% of patrons are not causing "problems". I suspect that if Last Call closed down there would be plenty enough cops to keep things peaceful downtown.

KsTwister 10 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence, Kansas must be one destitute city to want to tax, tax, tax, tax, tax. This must be one sad town; next it will be the air we breathe. Add this one gets added to the list of taxes imposed on people who take their money elsewhere. As some bars do pay for added security of their own I would suggest you leave the businesses alone----the city has managed to push enough businesses out of town already with sales lost. If one bar is a problem deal with it as a single issue.

Robberies in Lawrence are rampant while your officers watch for street violations to make money in fines for the city coffers. You call that protection?

Since the beginning of this city the costs were paid in taxes for city services----WHERE is our money going ??? City salaries but not officers? Parking garages but lousy streets? Roundabouts on dead-end roads? Concrete walk trails everywhere? Art and Flowers? Trimming the budget cannot be done without trying to cut costs on services and raising water rates, property taxes or both? If city managers would quit taking money from funding for those services to use for special projects then the money would be there.

Wanted: New City management

OldEnuf2BYurDad 10 years, 11 months ago

$23M in booze sales?! That's over $300 dollars for every person in Lawrence. That can't be right.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

Looks like Last Call was demanding as usual for most of the evening of our city's resources. Shut down the damn place and send Mr.Steffes a bill for $10,000 for being an established public nuisance AGAIN last night. Appears as though the the bright green Last Call in house security shirts are ineffective.

Taxpayers cannot afford the Steffes night clubs.

Fatty_McButterpants 10 years, 11 months ago

Rightthinker: your comment to "raise the donut tax" is just stupid and silly. Obviously, you don't strain yourself thinking deep thoughts on a regular basis.

bearded_gnome 10 years, 11 months ago

I've said before, solution for unrulies on the street/violent post embibing personages=public place cameras together with water cannon. thus would not need to increase police presence, could even reduce police on the street. one or at most two officers at the camera/cannon control, there ya' go.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

Bo Harris may not get that empty retail space filled so long as Last Call is in operation. Last Call is not a huge selling point.

4TheWorldNotMe 10 years, 11 months ago

Golly Folks. I love this idea. It is purely genious. The tax dollars from alcohol should go to the 5-0 without a doubt. Yes, yes, Mr. Carroll almost had a point when he said he had not had to call teh police from 3 or so months, but it is not about the alcohol related conflicts happening there(that would be too easy for the Police). It is about where they go afterwards that scares me. I'd hate to do this but, this is a perfect idea to work with the legalization of marijuana. Not only would it lessen the cost of the police, but it would be like giving them free money to focus on more important issues. Everyone is just scared of the idea about legal marijuana and the supposidly harmful effects it is having on the kids today. Well by golly the kids today are smart as smell, seriously. Marijuana was brought to the US by the Turkish people as a gift to the new world. That is just like our "Country of the Free" to make an off brand of tobacco illegal based on untruthful testimonies from unintelligent people of the 20s. Tobacco kills people, and that is a proven fact. Tobacco doesn't make people crash or fight, and Cannibas or Marijuana is a drug sometimes givin as a medicinal substance for pain, or weight gain. Just think of the possibilities and not of the hypocrisies, sadly by which our gov't is run.

blessed3x 10 years, 11 months ago

Why raise taxes on a legal activity to pay for the misbavior of a few idiots. I say make the penalties for those caught breaking the law while intoxicated more meaningful and use those revenues to fund the police force. How about a $1,500 fine for public intoxication? Or a $1,000 fine for MIP? What if the states seizes and sells your car if you are caught driving under the influence? Make the ones acting like idiots fund the police force that has to keep them under control.

jonas 10 years, 11 months ago

Hey, blessed3x, that sounds WAY too much like common sense! I think you should take you and your non-hysterical reasonable proposals and get the hell out of here! This isn't the place for those things.

Bah! Punishing the ones that commit the infractions?! How ridiculous!

blessed3x 10 years, 11 months ago

You're right, Jonas. I don't know what I was thinking. Please accept my deepest and most heartfelt apologies.

Bill Chapman 10 years, 11 months ago

I say just make the fines and punishment for offenders so high that >maybe< people will start considering their limits when drinking. Start confiscating offender's cars at the second (or maybe third) offense in addition to revoking their license (I know FAR too many people who drive without a license). >It's very difficult to drive a car when you don't HAVE a car - nothing prevents someone from driving without a license. Make the weapons possession/use while under the influence a felony instead of a misdemeanor charge. That might give some of the idiots who insist on bringing their weapons along on a bar run a pause for thought. Earmark ALL revenue gathered from these fines/punishments to the police dept. - that might help some.

Of course if the cops would stop giving out verbal warnings to the people they stop for possible DUI and start arresting them maybe we wouldn't have so many running around causing problems.

Bill Chapman 10 years, 11 months ago

P.S. : I'm not sure but the RICO laws ?might? be applicable to open alcohol containers in a vehicle. Maybe even large amounts of unopened alcohol containers in a vehicle not owned by a licensed alcohol distributor. Any property seized under the RICO laws becomes the property of the agency(or the government the agency is part of) that seized it.

Brian Conrad 10 years, 11 months ago

WOW Tax hungery people ... hmmmm what happens when they tax things.. just more waste.. we do not have double taxation we have 100 times taxation.. taxing never solves problem lets see income tax... gas tax , tobaco tax, gambiling tax, sales tax, state tax, personal property tax, 941 tax, if you wake up tommorrow tax....... how about give me money for putting up with all the liberal idiots who love tax.. TAX

Brian Conrad 10 years, 11 months ago

blessed3x is right.. although our county jail full of dui offenders while violent offenders walk the streets. would much rather have to walk down mass with a drunk than some idiot with gun or knife! violent offenders first offence should carry very strong penalty , but dui has set penalties in place. jail. but... pull a gun no problem they just send em back to Topeka?????? pull knife or gun go to jail. JR Giddens should open our eyes. that creep was out for more violence!

Martin_D_15 10 years, 11 months ago

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adriennerm 10 years, 11 months ago

Someone mentioned the drunk bus downtown last night. Is that the same as the party bus I see parked outside the club by McDonalds on 23rd? Just curious.

I was in the McDonalds parking lot on Friday waiting for someone to get of work and I noticed a blue and purple bus with the words party bus on top of it.

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