Annual liquor license fees for the 26 restaurants in Hingham with all-alcohol permits are about to go up, after selectmen voted to approve a tiered fee increase at their meeting in early November.
The new fee structure, supported by two of the three selectmen, will raise the existing all-alcohol license fee from $2,000 to $3,000 for restaurants with more than 175 seats, to $2,500 for restaurants with 100 to 175 seats, and to $2,250 for restaurants with fewer than 100 seats.
“I just figured it was time to bring that fee up to 2013 prices,” said Hingham Selectman Paul Healey, who said the tiered fee based on capacity spread out the burden fairly.
Hingham has been looking at increasing their liquor license fees for several weeks as a means to better provide police efforts around alcohol safety.
“This is trying to restore some police officers that frequently have to deal with the late evening outcroppings of those businesses,” said Town Administrator Ted Alexiades.
Selectmen were further intrigued after discovering that Hingham’s fee was lower than those in several comparable communities.
According to a printout of area towns provided by selectmen, Andover, Braintree, Concord, Hanover, Hull, Lexington, Milton, Needham, Wellesley, Westwood, Weymouth, and Winchester all have fees ranging from $2,500 to $4,500.
Canton, Cohasset, Dedham, Marblehead, Norwell, Quincy, Rockland, and Scituate were either on par with Hingham or up to $500 less.
Proposals to increase the rates across the board generated an outpouring of opposition from the restaurant community, however, causing selectmen to postpone an October vote. Consensus hadn’t been reached by the time the vote came on Nov. 7, with one selectman voting against the measure.
Irma Lauter, who voted in favor, said she wished the town had done an increase sooner, and hoped to look at it annually moving forward.
“We’re trying to encourage small business here,” she said, noting that a sliding scale based off occupancy did just that.
Yet selectman Bruce Rabuffo, the dissenting vote, said he agreed with the restaurant community that the fee was increased without much notice.
“When I talked with a couple larger restaurants, one issue was they are giving it to us at the last minute, so we didn’t budget it, and they thought it was a surprise, and it was just unfair,” Rabuffo said.
Rabuffo said he additionally didn’t have a grasp on all the implications, such as how much restaurants were paying in property tax assessments.
According to Rabuffo, property taxes for restaurants are based on a formula that calculates property values and income.
Yet an investigation into the assessments showed some restaurants hadn’t filled out all the forms, and some had assessments unchanged year to year.
“I don’t want to change anything and screw it up; if we proceed, we may be missing some assessments,” Rabuffo said.
Some restaurants have already been policing alcohol consumption without town interference, Rabuffo added. At Burton’s, employees are given bonuses for catching underage drinkers or halting service to an over-intoxicated patron.
At the Shipyard, restaurants pay for an additional police detail during busy times. Derby Street Shoppes also hire a patrolman during the holidays.
“We’re dealing with a group of very responsible people and I want to keep Hingham a very welcoming place,” Rabuffo said.
For a list of all the town’s liquor fees and comparisons, click here. here.